Mortician mourns Spring St. remodel

It has now been almost a year since the last construction crew finished the final touches on Spring Street. What once was a straight two-way street with parking on either side is now a curved one-way street (in front of the BankNorth and the Post Office, respectively, the sidewalk curves in toward the center) with dubious parking opportunities. Though all of this may seem very inconsequential to those of us who only go to Spring Street in search of culinary variation and anonymity, there is actually quite a bit of intrigue behind it.

Towards the end of Spring Street lies a small, unmarked brown house: the Hopkins Funeral home, established 1888. Everett Miller, whose mother was a Hopkins, is the fifth-generation owner of the business and has been preparing bodies for about sixty years. “It’s not new to me,” he says. A seemingly eternal fixture of Williamstown, the Hopkins Funeral Home used to own the town ambulance, before the ambulance turned into a non-profit operation. “It was non-profit when I ran it,” Miller says, “but it wasn’t supposed to be. I was getting $15 dollars for a call. It’s $190 now.” One of Miller’s sons now drives the ambulance. But after 114 years, Miller says, “no one wants a funeral home on Spring Street.”

Miller thought that the proposed reconstruction of Spring Street was a bad idea – bad for his business, but even worse for the neighboring businesses that depended on walk-in trade – and he told the Williamstown board of selectmen what he thought. “They said they weren’t going to do it, and then I had a heart attack and I had to have open-heart surgery and they did it anyway.” The two curves in the road make the bottom half of Spring Street a much less desirable place for shopping, says Miller, because they do not allow for any parking.

This most recent remodeling, according to Miller, is just another example of the deterioration that has taken place on Spring Street over the years. “There used to be five restaurants on Spring Street,” he says, “Gym Lunch was open 24 hours a day. There was the College restaurant next to Goff’s. The drug store had a fountain.” Now, he says, “no one comes on Spring Street, especially not the locals.”

When asked if business had in fact slowed, post office workers replied in the affirmative. “Without a doubt. [Our old customers] go to different post offices. Pownal, Vt., North Adams…We’ve lost a lot of local townspeople.” The two post office boxes on Spring Street were added because the post office complained that its business was going down. So now people can drive by and throw their mail into the boxes, but since the boxes are situated just beyond the crosswalk, people like Miller think that they pose a safety hazard. “I may be the only person who uses [the crosswalks],” Miller says, “but I’ve almost been hit quite a few times.” The post office has found a way to subsidize its loss of business, but for other businesses who cannot simply put a box on the street, the post office’s solution makes circumstances even more difficult; if people do not have to get out of their cars to go to the post office, there is even less reason for them to do their business in that part of town.

Simply from walking down Spring Street, one can see the commercial divide that exists. On many afternoons, when Coffee Roasters and Papa Charlie’s are doing good business, Lickety-Split and the Bershire Hills Market are closed. Lickety-Split says that it hasn’t seen any decrease in business since the construction, but their hours are markedly different from shops closer to campus.

Whatever their location on Spring Street, business owners and workers agree that the parking situation is a definite problem. “Everybody complains about parking,” said Rosanna George, who works at the Clip Shop. “A lot of the elderly people complain about having to walk. One woman stopped coming recently because she said she just couldn’t do the walk anymore.”

At Papa Charlie’s, Evie Nickolapoulos and John Walker agreed that they’re “essentially more annoyed because there are less parking places.” They say that they have not lost many customers because they serve mostly loyal devotees and students (plus theater-types in the summer). The general feeling is that businesses that appeal to a specific need, like Zanna, which “hasn’t seen changes,” are doing fine through the construction. More standard places like the post office, on the other hand, have suffered. Duke Duhamel, at the Newsroom, says that they haven’t seen any decrease in business since the construction, but adds that he deals mostly with college students. “Students park up there and they stay there all the time,” he said, pointing to the hill in front of Morgan, where parking is supposed to only last two hours.

So why make changes to a street that only decrease business? Mr. Miller thinks it was “totally stupid,” done to “beautify” the street, and amounted positively only to “putting in some trees.” The remodel may have improved Spring St. aesthetically, but according to some of the merchants on its lower end, it has cost them valuable business.