Our Opinion: The right mix for Great Barrington

Great Barrington's funky, bustling downtown is the envy of many communities in the Berkshires and region. It suffered the loss of an iconic establishment last summer but may in the long run bounce back better than before.

A catastrophic kitchen fire last summer brought a sudden end to Martin's Restaurant — a favorite of townies, second-homers and visitors — at the top of Railroad Street. The owners couldn't recover from the losses, but the new owners, Ian Rasch and Sam Nickerson of Framework Properties, are realizing a vision that should boost an already strong downtown (Eagle, March 20).

The building, which Framework is renovating in keeping with the look and history of the neighborhood, will offer 13 high-end apartments on the top floors with retail stores and eating establishments below. Communities, including Pittsfield (where it is "upstreet," not downtown) are seeking to revitalize their downtowns with mixed-use components, among them business, housing, retail, and restaurants/entertainment. Great Barrington has all four and the Framework proposal directly addresses three of the components.

Great Barrington's downtown is compact and walkable, and the latter couldn't be said before the (at times controversial) downtown renovation was completed. The work was traumatizing to the community, as was the loss of downtown trees, but sidewalks — cracked and made treacherous by roots and old age — weren't pedestrian-friendly. The footing is now better, as is the lighting, and it is easier to access and appreciate everything downtown has to offer, from a variety of restaurants, to retail establishments, to entertainment venues like the Triplex and Mahaiwe. Apartments provide downtown with a base of permanent residents.

It can sometimes be difficult to find a parking place, but that is a "problem" common to communities with thriving downtowns. With spring having made a welcome arrival, walking from a side street parking spot to downtown won't be a chore, especially now that tripping is much less of a possibility.

Mr. Rasch and Mr. Nickerson told The Eagle that their goal in renovating the Railroad Street building is to cater to the lifestyle of millennials in town. Great Barrington has long offered a mix of young people and the Berkshires in general would benefit from keeping millennials at home and bring more into town. One way to do this is to offer more late night dining and entertainment establishments, which are particularly scarce in much of central and Berkshire County.

Mixed-use efforts are popping up around town, including an ambitious expansion of the Berkshire Co-op Market on Bridge Street. Downtowns everywhere face obstacles to their revival or continued success, but variety is the spice of a successful life for community cores.


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