North Adams Year in Review 2021 /


Gus Jammalo gives Gene Kemp a haircut, the last of his well-known barber trade. Jammalo says that at 87, it’s time for him to go fishing and spend time with his family.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – The year 2021, the second year of the pandemic, saw a return of community events, devastating fires, abrupt departures, a successful vaccination program, major buildings changing hands downtown and the election of ‘a new, more diverse government, including the city’s first female mayor.

For a woman to finally take the corner job for the first time in North Adams’ 126-year history was already on the cards when nominations closed in July. For the first time, only women could run for mayor: Lynette Bond, Rachel Branch, Aprilynn Carsno and Jennifer Macksey.

The new city council would also innovate with the elections of Michael Obasohan and Ashley Shade. Obasohan would be the first black person elected to the board and Shade the first transgender person.

Although there was a short-lived social media campaign to “oust the incumbents” and calls for papers, the six ballot holders were easily re-elected.

The last two years of the board have been difficult: there have been three presidents in four months, four councilors have resigned and the panel lasted two months with seven members. The first to leave was Robert Moulton Jr. in 2020, but three others stepped down last year, including two board chairmen.

Bryan Sapienza would be elected by the board to replace Hopkins and Harpin (whose name still appeared on the ballot) would be relocated with Obasohan after the election. Peter Oleskiewicz joined the board last year after Moulton left.

The new nine-member board are Jennifer Barbeau, Lisa Blackmer, Keith Bona, Harpin, Obasohan, Oleskiewicz, Sapienza, Shade and Wayne Wilkinson.

COVID-19 Redux

The North Berkshire Regional Vaccination Center opened on January 11 to a full house; on June 17, the very last person vaccinated was discharged at 7:06 p.m.

Between these five to six months, the collaboration organized 40 clinics and administered 24,913 doses of vaccine against the new coronavirus. The North Berkshire clinic was one of three under the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative and was managed by the North Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee and the Northern Berkshire Emergency Service.

Vaccinations and the decline in cases (at least until the omicron variant hits in the fall) allowed the resumption of favorite community activities with the lifting of the state of emergency on June 15. There was no Memorial Day parade but in-person graduation ceremonies for Drury and McCann High Schools; the celebration of downtown; a mini Motorama; the Neighbors, and the parade of fall foliage.

Burning problems

The city’s new fire chief had to deal with two major fires in no time. Brent Lefebvre was appointed in March as the new fire chief, replacing Stephen Meranti, who retired after 17 years.

The city has experienced two major fires in a month that required help from dozens of fire departments.

In May, a bushfire on East Mountain spread through Clarksburg State Forest and into Williamstown, burning 1,000 acres. More than 120 firefighters from 19 different communities and the state worked to contain it.

Not two weeks later, a fire at George Apkin & Sons was started by a battery spark while a junk car was thrown into a baling unit. It spread to a pile of cars and car parts 100 feet long and two stories high. Dozens of firefighters from as far away as Orange and Northampton brought the massive blaze under control in about 24 hours.

But it would be two house fires earlier in the year that would create a storm of controversy over the condition of the city’s fire hydrants. Broken or missing fire hydrants affected fire control efforts at the Greylock Apartments and on Veazie Street and an audit found around 130 fire candles in various states of disrepair.

City council would approve the mayor’s request to borrow $ 300,000 to solve the problem, but the fire hydrant problem would continue to highlight the infrastructure problems plaguing the city, as Bernard pointed out in his report. state of the city speech in february.

This would include the public security building, a long-standing issue that would become one of the main topics of the mayoral race.

Mohawk Theater

Probably no building has been the subject of as much discussion in the past two years as the long-vacant Mohawk Theater. The structure was declared surplus last year, and in a second request for proposals, an offer was accepted by developer Veselko Buntic to use as an event space for a planned hotel in the adjacent Dowlin block.

Councilor Keith Bona, however, objected to the mayor’s decision to award the below-evaluated offer without council input and requested a reconsideration. A number of residents and State Representative John Barrett III also protested a sale that would abandon the concept of a performing arts theater.

The board, which appeared ready to approve, went at the last minute with a compromise devised by Bona and Councilor Benjamin Lamb to amend the 2019 by-law requiring board approval for any sale and put a decision until January. This would give a contribution to incoming mayor Jennifer Macksey; his inaugural speech looked at the pursuit of the performance hall.

In other public property actions, the council rejected a plan to turn the old Sullivan School into a housing estate; plans for new access and sidewalks to make the area around Brayton School safe for walking will begin next year; and the school committee abandoned plans for a Greylock school project on the advice of the Massachusetts School Building Authority to focus on renovating Brayton to meet the needs of a declining school population.

Business changes

The downtown area has seen many small store openings over the past year, including the Pops General Store on Marshall Street; the expansion of “side stores” at Berkshire Emporium, including Savvy Hive and Crafters Connection; the Bear and Bee bookstore on Holden Street; the Plant Connector and the revamped Secret Stash on Eagle Street; and the relocation of 413 Bistro from Williamstown to Main Street. In the West End, the city’s first marijuana dispensary, Clear Sky, opened as well as the Norad Toy & Candy Co., and on the south side, the opening of Bill’s Sporting Goods on State Street.

The big sale was the Holiday Inn, now Hotel Downstreet, purchased as NA Hotel LLC for $ 4.45 million. The 90-room hotel is now owned by Peregrine Group, a property management company, and will be managed by Main Street Hospitality. There are plans to rejuvenate the 1974 structure over the next year.

People in the news

The largesse of late State Representative Gailanne Cariddi continues to benefit the city more than four years after her death. The final settlement will leave another donation of $ 91,651 to the public library for a total of $ 266,651.56 and $ 109,276.86 for the future bike path for a total of $ 319,276.86.

John “Jack” and Joyce Brooks also left $ 40,000 in the library, in addition to the same amount to their alma mater Drury last year; and $ 1,885 was donated to the high school film and screenwriting course in memory of former high school teacher Drury Francis Merrigan.

But 2021 saw the death of longtime North Adams columnist Joe Manning at the age of 79. Manning first discovered Steeple City 25 years ago and has become a frequent and beloved visitor. The author, historian, genealogist, independent journalist, poet, photographer and songwriter have made the city his “spiritual home”, even though he has never lived there.

The city also lost William “Billy” Evans, a Capitol Police officer killed in the line of duty at the age of 41. The Drury High graduate was in honor in the Capitol Rotunda with services including the President, and was escorted home by officers from many departments. His private service at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Adams was attended by state and federal officials.


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