Business of the Month
“It’s about way more than just skiing.” So says Lucinda Vermeulen, owner of Kenver, Ltd. the outdoor specialty store in South Egremont that is famous for its atmosphere.
When Lucinda’s late husband Ken Vermeulen founded the business with Ernie Beckwith in Great Barrington in 1959, the focus of the business was rather different. Both men were avid hunters and outdoorsmen and, Lucinda laughs, “if you can imagine, they used to hang deer on Railroad Street, with everybody walking around in neon orange!”
Soon, however, Ken Vermeulen moved the business to its current location in Egremont. The iconic building, which dates back to 1731 and once served as a stagecoach stop, had been decimated by fire, but the beautiful marble floors, high ceilings, and original beams were still intact, and they captured Vermeulen’s fancy.
BerkShares, Inc. is a membership-directed non-profit organization focused on responsible economic development in the Berkshire region. BerkShares, Inc. has worked in partnership with local businesses and community banks to issue BerkShares, a local currency for the Berkshire Region. BerkShares help to build regional identity, raise awareness about the importance of local ownership, and empower community-based economic decision-making. On October 20th, BerkShares, Inc. held its Annual Meeting, where the membership elected the following five of their fellows to join the Board of Trustees of the organization:
“Honey, I bought a brewery.” That is how Chris Post announced to the world (and in particular, to his wife) that his home brewing hobby had morphed into something more serious. At that point, Post was still working in finance in New York City, and brewing was something that happened on a two-ring burner in his apartment. But one day, while browsing eBay for home brewing equipment, he had stumbled upon the entire contents of a brewpub in Michigan, listed at “an absurdly low price.”
“I was convinced that I would be outbid, but I didn’t want to die wondering ‘what if I had taken that chance and pressed the button.’ So I pressed the button.” As it turns out, that was the beginning of Post’s adventure from banker to brewer.
“The idea that a group of people can control a business by exercising the democratic process is a very powerful one,” says Daniel Esko, General Manager at Berkshire Co-op Market. And in Great Barrington that power, aligned with a common demand for high-quality food, has led the Co-op to evolve significantly from its “humble roots on Rosseter Street,” where it was incorporated by 160 families in 1981.
If you are “fiercely local,” what is the best way to show it? By drinking local beer, of course! At Big Elm Brewing, Bill and Christine Heaton and their co-founders Jen and Russell Jaehnig have set out to make the task of showing your Berkshire pride both easy and delicious.
Founded in Sheffield in 2012, Big Elm beer has fast become a staple in bars, markets, and liquor stores throughout the region. After gaining a strong foothold here over their first three years, the company signed an agreement with the Craft Brewers Guild for statewide distribution in January, which has allowed them to gain, according to Heaton, “really good traction” in the lively Boston craft beer market. And on June 9th they filled their millionth can of beer!
“I have these moments when I’m singing where everything feels exactly right,” says one young member of Berkshire Children’s Chorus, a non-profit community children’s chorus currently celebrating its 25th season. “Singing in a children’s chorus can be a very powerful and transformative experience,” agrees Artistic Director Julie Bickford. “It was in my life.”
Do all arboriculturalists drink green tea? Or is it only the crew of Barrett Tree Service? Founder and owner Winthrop Barrett laughs, “Yeah, we’re always drinking the green tea.” It’s by no means a profession-wide tradition, he explains, but it does serve a purpose. “It’s a performance drink. It gives you a nice steady buzz, whereas coffee brings you up and then you crash.” And when you’re in a business like tree care, you want an even keel.
Teamflys offers a new perspective on the local economy: a bird’s eye view! Based out of the North Adams airport, Teamflys offers scenic flights, aircraft rentals, and professional flight instruction to locals and visitors alike – and they accept BerkShares! “We’re not a typical start-up business,” says manager Trevor Gilman, explaining that the business launched with zero money in the bank. “We found a principal investor who bought the airplane and then we started up the business and began to take on students.”
Oskar Hallig had so much fun planning his own wedding that he was inspired to start a business – planning other people’s weddings! Though matrimony was his entrée into the business, Hallig’s company, Only In My Dreams Events, plans all sorts of to-dos, including birthday parties, fundraisers, and memorial services. “We do everything from beginning to end, so to speak."
AW Baldwin's Hardware
2 Center Street, West Stockbridge, MA
Henry Baldwin’s hardware business has a genealogy. His great-great grandfather, also by the name of Henry, bought the business 150 years ago, and Baldwin’s Hardware has been a steadfast presence right smack in the middle of West Stockbridge ever since then. From this vantage point, Baldwin has a pretty special perspective on this little—and very walkable—town.
39 Silver Street, Sheffield, MA
Cold hard stone? Not in the hands of master mason Mark Mendel and his crew at Monterey Masonry. When you talk to Mendel you realize that his business has a lot more to do with warmth than you might anticipate. In fact, Mendel’s “bread and butter” since he founded Monterey Masonry in 1982 has been in building fireplaces. Mendel specializes in building energy
7 South Street, Stockbridge, MA
Maurice Peterson’s ambitions did not originally tend toward owning a salon in Stockbridge. “I was going to be a movie star and director,” he explains. But his husband, Mark Johnson, had always dreamed of having his own salon, and after working for some of the top salons in London, Los Angeles, and New York, he knew a lot about the business. So eight
“I don’t think there’s a better place in the world to grow apples than New England and in particular the Berkshires,” says John Vittori, co-owner of Hilltop Orchards and Furnace Brook Winery. Though they grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, Vittori and his sister Wendy always
Bizalion's Fine Food
684 S. Main Street, Great Barrington, MA
Entrepreneur comes from the French entreprendre. “It’s the adventure of launching yourself into something new” says Jean-François Bizalion of Bizalion’s Fine Food in Great Barrington. When Jean-François and his wife Helen opened their café and specialty food shop a little over ten years ago, in 2003, they were certainly embarking on a new adventure