CHARLEMONT — Even though Berkshire East Mountain Resort attracts thousands of out-of-towners each winter and Zoar Outdoor and Crab Apple Whitewater bring people in during the summer, business owners in the shopping district say it’s still incredibly difficult to own a business in Charlemont. he barely understands each season as new problems arise.
“I’m working to make enough money to pay the bills,” said Stephen Thayer, owner of the Heritage Diner at 90 Main St. “I’m too stubborn to stop.”
With Wells Provisions and Cold River Cafe closing in the past few months and Berkshire Pizzeria co-owner Greg Rowehl recently announcing that he and his wife are selling their business and building, the landscape of stores and restaurants in Charlemont is changing dramatically. within a short period of time.
Although these changes also come with positive aspects. A new brewery plans to move into the space that once housed the Cold River Cafe, and an ice cream truck owned by Avery’s General Store co-manager David Kong could be coming to town this summer.
Although outdoor recreation brings people to Charlemont year-round, business owners say summer is the busiest season.
Many business owners say skiers aren’t interested in stopping a few minutes from the ski mountain for food and gifts, preferring instead to drive to Greenfield or Shelburne Falls or stay at a ski lodge on the mountain.
That may be because of the distance, said Ken Hall, co-manager of Avery’s General Store. Because skiers can’t walk from the mountain to downtown, he says, they choose to drive the extra 10 to 30 minutes to other areas that have more options. With two restaurants closing, Hall thinks it could hurt all the businesses in town.
Last summer was particularly difficult. According to business owners interviewed for this article, most of the tourists who patronize their businesses are campers from the Mohawk Trail State Forest, especially on rainy days. The forest is closed to campers in 2023 for a $1.4 million water system and infrastructure renovation project. Since there are no campers, businesses have suffered a huge loss. Thayer said campers account for a third of his sales for the year.
Rowehl and Thayer both said their business was doing better during the COVID-19 lockdown than it is now. They said it could be because people travel less often out of state, so outdoor tourists from Boston are more likely to stop in Charlemont.
Business owners noted that sales in 2023 were significantly worse than the previous year, prompting changes in business hours, staffing levels and ingredient suppliers.
Rowehl said Berkshire Pizzeria is open seven days a week; now only open four days with limited hours and often serving a limited menu. Thayer said the Heritage Diner operated a dishwasher, but that person was fired about two months ago because there was not enough work to merit the position.
Between higher taxes, Sewer District fees and huge increases in ingredient prices, business owners say they are struggling to make a profit.
“Costs eat up all revenue,” Rowehl said. “I can control where I buy my food, but it’s hard.”
Thayer said he stopped using a supplier for his products and instead went to Chicopee or Albany, New York, to find better prices.
“The locals are doing everything they can to keep me in business,” said Thayer, who said he’s seen the entire community struggle with a tight economy.
Some of the owners hope to turn their businesses around in the summer of 2024.
“Hopefully the summer continues and we do better,” Kong said.
“Right now we’re seeing 50 cars go through,” Hall added, “and those people aren’t stopping in town anymore.”
Contact Bella Levavi at 413-930-4579 or [email protected].