By Mickey Friedman
July 24, 2017
Friends say they increasingly avoid Great Barrington. There’s less and less for them here.
Losing Martin’s reminds me when folks gathered there, at Melvin’s, or ordered breakfast from Ruth at The Cricket. Once Frankie T. offered enormous portions, his food from farms that came to your Deli table without trumpets or press coverage.
Today, affordable family restaurants are an endangered species.
A friend comes from Alford only when he needs a tool from Carr Hardware, books from the Library or the occasional coffee from Fuel. When K. bought his Barrington house in 2008, his taxes were $2,600 a year. Now they’re about $4,000. His taxes bought new curbs, he jokes, while contemplating selling his home.
Great Barrington once was a real town. Downtown had funky bars, shoes, jeans, barber shops, dry cleaners, auto parts, an A&P and Aldo’s. Soon we’ll have luxury apartments and more upscale stores selling stuff most who live here can’t afford.
We’ve taken state money to turn New England into Anytown USA. We’ve got a variety of trees, but lost our gorgeous European-like canopy. Somehow it’s more dangerous to cross the street.
Community is fragile. It can be obliterated before you know it.
Great Barrington is becoming a place for others to visit, to shop and dine. With fifteen dollar cheeseburgers, it’s a place less real and sustainable for those who live here.
Our Berkshire Co-op was once home to families who banded together to buy in bulk and save. Who volunteered to work to feed each other. The gap between the rich and the rest of us grows bigger, yet the Co-op favors those with extra dollars to spare. Now it desires to be newer, bigger, with more varieties of the same things. Capitalism’s destructive encouragement of needless choice. Competing with Guido’s, a local family business which not only provides jobs but donates an extraordinary amount of food to feed our hungry. Moving further from its earliest mission, part of a snazzy gentrification with $400,000 apartments. While our young people, unable to find living wage jobs or afford housing, flee town.
I recently moved to Castle Street and discovered our Zoning Bylaws exempt landlords in the Downtown Business District from providing the “minimum off-street parking requirement” of “two parking spaces for each dwelling unit.” So, no parking for the renters of twelve apartments. Or other downtown apartments. I was told I could park in the eight diagonal parking spaces on Castle Street beyond Town Hall. Because for decades, Chief Walsh and the Police Department, with higher priorities, had not ticketed those who park there. While above those diagonal spots, there’s additional 4 Hour Parking from 8 AM – 5 PM.
Now the Town has decided to ticket people who park in those diagonal spots for more than four hours during the daytime.
Jennifer Tabakin, Town Manager, explains: “The Town has increased parking enforcement recently to better address the crowds in our downtown in the summer season. We have a popular town and it is true that it is hard on certain days to find a space to park. Getting the correct balance of parking spots for customers, employees, local businesses and residents is an ongoing challenge. The new parking rules and enforcement plan is aimed at encouraging the prime spots to be available and used by customers during the day time hours, so they can have easy access to the Main Street and Railroad Street stores.
“For residents, who are looking for parking in the evening, there are many spots that have no restrictions after 5:00 pm. For residents and employees looking for day time spots, the Castle Street parking lot has four-hour parking during the day time, the lot on the top of Railroad Street has unlimited parking, and the on-street parking on Elm Court, Pleasant Street, Dresser Avenue and Church Street is also unlimited … With any new parking program, there are likely things that may need to be changed or adjusted as we evaluate how it is working.
“In the big picture, I am happy that we have a thriving business district that has residential and commercial uses together. This success does generate parking problems, but it is also a sign of a popular place and a good economy.”
Reasonable but revelatory. I now compete for a space on Railroad Street. We’re becoming a town more attuned to customers, to those from there with money to spend, than residents who struggle to pay rent, mortgages and taxes. So it seems the parking needs of our guests are addressed sooner than ours. A simple sticker exempting downtown dwellers from tickets would solve this. Or a state/privately-financed parking garage instead of a bigger Co-op. As GB becomes less real, less charming, and less authentic, the customers will go elsewhere. Because customers come and go. While we’ll stay as long as we possibly can.
“They Come and Go” was first published in The Berkshire Record on July 13, 2017.
Mickey Friedman’s Berkshire-based I Ching mysteries, “Danger” and “Folly”, as well as his non-fiction “A Red Family” are available on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Mickey-Friedman/e/B00R4S2MSE/. His films can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/user/bluehillfilms