Spring Street business still vacant after March fire; future uncertain

Spring Street’s future appears to be an uncertain one as last March’s early morning fire has displaced several businesses. Compounding the complexity of Spring Street’s future is controversy surrounding upcoming renovations and redesign of the street.

The fire, which blazed through the west side of the street last spring, caused more than one million dollars in damage and displaced several stores. Although some stores, such as the Clarksburg bakery have returned to their former sites, three stores—Colonial Pizza, Universal Health Foods and the Cobble Cafe-—have yet to return.

According to an article which appeared in the August 6 edition of the Berkshire Eagle, the owners of the building which formerly contained the above three businesses (collectively known as Kowan Nominee Trust) decided to demolish the existing structure and replace it with a new, two story mixed-use building last spring.

Although a spokesperson of the Kowan Nominee Trust could not be reached for comment, Town Manager Stephen Patch said yesterday he believes the project is still in the design stages.

He added that he does not know when (or if) Cobble Café or Universal Health Foods plan to return after the demolition and redesign are complete.

Cobble Café’s owners, who also own the Wild Amber Grill on Main Street, moved the Café’s lunch business to that location shortly after the fire.

And the uncertain fate of the building has caused Colonial Pizza owner Constantine Anagnos to move to a new site in the Colonial Shops Mall on Main Street.

Anagnos said he is happy with the business in his new location, but he would also like to move the restaurant back to Spring Street eventually.

“The owners say we might be able to move back in five or six months, but I don’t really know,” he said. “We’re going to keep this location and, when we can, we’ll move back to Spring Street.”

However, this redesign is only the beginning of new construction on Spring Street.

Patch said in the year 2000 the town will put into action a plan to streetscape and redesign the entire street. He added that the project should be complete by the fall of 2000.

Patch said in June President Clinton signed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st century, a grant which included approximately $1.5 million toward the reconstruction of Spring Street.

And last July, Margaret Ware, the design chairman for the Spring Street project, presented the basic redesign plans at a meeting of the selectman. Patch said according to the plans, the street will be resurfaced, sidewalks will be reconstructed, historic lamps will be installed, and the street will be generally redesigned.

Several business owners along Spring Street have expressed concern about he potential disruption to business as a result of the renovations. But they agree that renovations are necessary and will be beneficial in the long run.

“It has to be done,” said Art Lafave, the manager of the Mobil garage. “But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to like it.”

“These are all small businesses (on Spring Street),” Lefave noted. “These are all mom and pop operations along here. The construction will change our habits, and when you do that, there are bound to be problems.”

“I’ve been here for 31 years, a longer time than most, but I feel bad for all of us,” Lefave added.

He noted that he is particularly concerned due to the nature of his business. “I depend on cars being able to access us,” he said. “If people can’t bring their cars, they don’t need me.”

Patch said business impact is one of the town’s largest concerns in undertaking the project.

“We don’t have a plan, but we are working on one,” he said.

Patch added that the goal during the renovations will be to keep the street open at all time and provide access.

Subway owner Glenn Tierney said he anticipates a significant loss in business as a result of the renovations.

“Most of [the owners] are looking to lose about 20 percent in business,” he said. “But we might do better with the fairly constant student base.”

Despite the disruption of the fire last spring and the upcoming renovations, Tierney said he plans to remain on Spring Street.

“Students come in and ask me when I’m planning to move and I tell them that I’m not,” he said. “I suppose that with all the talk about new construction and redesigning the street, our location has come under fire—but from who I don’t know. I’m not going anywhere.”

Anagnos, like Tierney, is confident that when his business returns to Spring Street it will survive the volatility of the redesign project.

“When we can reopen our Spring Street location, we’ll have a new building, new shop, new everything,” he said. “The students will come back, and we’ll still be making a profit with our Main Street location.”

Payne, who is a co-chair of the Williamstown 2000 project, said despite the disruption to business the street needs to be renovated. “The key point is that the street has to be reconstructed because of decayed infrastructure, with some inevitable disruption,” he noted.

Payne noted that while the College has a major interest in Spring Street, it does not have official control over the project.

Although the school owns almost 50 percent of the frontage on Spring Street, Payne emphasized that it is still a public project.

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