Candidate Kennedy talks jobs at Berkshires businesses

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NORTH ADAMS — U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III leaned in and nodded along as a local husband and wife duo shared with him their vision for the future of their cider business.

They told him how people would someday gather to try their ciders in a tasting room. And about events they would cater— weddings like their own.

Then, after a beat, Matt Brogan, co-owner of Berkshire Cider Project, seemed to remember something.

"Well, next year," he said.

"Next year," echoed Kat Hand, his wife and business partner.

Kennedy, a candidate for U.S. Senate, stopped Thursday at Greylock Works in North Adams, where Berkshire Cider Project is located, and at Methuselah Bar and Lounge in Pittsfield among a few other places as part of what he's calling the Jobs and Justice Tour across Massachusetts. The Senate-hopeful is promoting his newly released plan of the same name which is aimed at stimulating the economy post-pandemic, aiding in "crisis recovery" and growing minority-owned businesses.

Kennedy, who will challenge U.S. Sen. Edward Markey in a Democratic primary, said the plan is focused on short-term recovery, like creating jobs, and long-term changes, like confronting racial injustice. He said the economy as is "takes advantage of essential workers and exploits low-wage labor."

"We were so vulnerable to this crisis because of major structural inequities in our system," he said.

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Greylock Works owners Karla Rothstein and Salvatore Perry walked Kennedy, members of his staff and reporters through their building, an old textile mill that operated from the late 19th century into the mid-20th century, pointing out major renovations and describing their development plans.

The couple has been working on the 240,000-square-foot building for five years or so. Inside are office and event spaces, a new restaurant, a distillery, a cider business and, soon, apartments.

Though the apartments are a work in progress, Rothstein and Perry, originally from Brooklyn, have been living in one of the completed units. They moved in to "keep an eye on things" when the pandemic hit because their employees weren't considered essential.

"Short term, it's been really hard," Rothstein said.

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Rothstein and Perry applied for and received money from one of the business-aid programs that arose in response to the coronavirus, but the money was small compared to the revenue Greylock Works could have generated, Rothstein said.

Yuki Cohen, owner of Methuselah Bar and Lounge, shared similar sentiments when Kennedy arrived later in Pittsfield. Her business relies on social gatherings, she pointed out. A half-capacity restaurant means half the business.

Cohen received funds from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, but was still pushed to lay off five of her employees, three of whom have been hired back. She said she would be interested in applying again if possible.

"I need all the help I can get," she said.

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Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington was present at the gathering at Methuselah, along with a handful of local Kennedy campaign organizers. Harrington said she feels now is the time to break from the status quo.

"As a nation and as a community, we are at a breaking point," she said. "We need new leadership."

Lucinda Lee and Ian Valiton of North Adams showed up to meet Kennedy at Greylock Works, but they weren't invited to join the tour, which had been organized for Kennedy to meet the owners, a staff member explained. The two stuck around and chatted with candidate afterward anyway.

"He seems very nice," Lee said.

Valiton said he hopes to see Kennedy come back to the area for a town hall session or a more public event.

"I want to see this area thrive again," Valiton said.

Eagle reporter Jack Lyons contributed to this report.

Caroline White can be reached at cwhite@berkshireeagle.com or at (563)-513-1065.


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