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A New New Berry for Pittsfield

Staff Reports

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Central Block's getting a new tenant in New Berry Place, a sweets and gift shop moving into the front window on North Street.

The name should be easy to remember since it recalls the long-gone J.J. Newberrys that carried about everything you can imagine and lunch, too.

We ran into owner Joseph Mele as he stopped in to see how construction was going. Mele once owned Joe's Lunchbox and operated a corner market in Pittsfield. He thinks the location and the variety of merchandise will fit well on this end of North Street.

Mele's prime ingredient will be Gifford's Ice Cream, a premium Maine brand that won for World's Best Chocolate at last year's World Dairy Expo. Mele says the ice cream is available at Harry's Supermarket locally so it has name-brand awareness among Pittsfield residents.

He's not depending on ice cream to get him through the cold months. The shop will also offer wide range of gift items at less than $20 and greeting cards. It will also stock some convenience items such as toothpaste and Kleenex, making it easier for residents and visitors alike to grab dessert and necessities after a night at the nearby Beacon or Shiro's.

New Berry is expected to open by spring. The space had been used by Richmond Networx, which has relocated to an interior office in the Central Block.

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House Gives Initial Approval to Jobless Insurance Rate Changes

Berkshire Chamber of Commerce

The Berkshire Chamber passed on this information:

The state House budget committee on Thursday approved an unemployment insurance rate freeze bill that aides say would hit employers with per-employee average increase of $110 per year but spare businesses from a rate schedule with even higher rates.  More Massachusetts residents have been relying on the fund during the recession for cash benefits and the fund will need years of federal loans to keep benefits flowing.

Unemployment in Massachusetts hit 9.4 percent in December.  Patrick administration officials said last year they were considering a rate relief plan but no proposal has been filed and steep unemployment insurance rate hikes are scheduled to trigger in the spring, unless legislators and Patrick agree to a new schedule. 

"Freezing the rate is an appropriate step at least based on the numbers that I've seen," John Regan of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, an employer trade group, told the Statehouse News Service on Thursday morning.  "We'd clearly like to see systemic reform as well, not that we're ungrateful for the step that's being taken."  The House gave the bill initial approval Thursday morning and it could receive further attention in the afternoon.

The Berkshire Chamber of Commerce will keep you informed on this topic. If you have any questions, call 413-499-4000.

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Barrington Shopper Hit With Fair Housing Fines

Staff Reports

The Shopper's Guide in Great Barrington got slapped with a $15,000 consent judgment on Monday over some 146 purported discriminatory rental ads. On top of that, the 42-year-old free publication will have to provide $30,000 worth of free advertising to the entity that came after it — the Housing Discrimination Project of Holyoke.

The project, part of the nonprofit Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, complained to Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination that the Shopper had been running rental property advertisements, both print and online, "that unlawfully discriminated based on family status, sex, marital status, receipt of public housing assistance, and disability." The ads had reportedly run between January 2007 and mid-September 2009.

The attorney general's office filed the complaint on Jan. 29; the shopper Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini entered the consent agreement on Monday.

The Raifstanger family run publication is almost all classifieds and touts having the "lowest per column inch rate in the area."

Now it will have to not only offer up free advertising, but also train its staff on the federal Fair Housing Act, sponsor a community fair housing traning for the public and adopt screening-mechanisms to ensure that discriminatory advertisements are not published.

Publications as well as landlords can get in trouble for ads that discriminate against people of any, creed, sex or ethnicity. Just saying "no children" can land you in hot water.

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Fat Lady Sings

Staff Reports

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — The final note has apparently sounded for the Berkshire Opera Company. The 26-year-old company filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

According to the Boston Business Journal, the company filed for Chapter 7, which its says usually results in liquidation, and its assets were less than $50,000. Its liabilities are reportedly $100,000 to $500,000.

The company once had grand plans, buying the Mahaiwe back in 2000 for $435,000 as a permanent home. Its $15 million grand plans to renovate the historic theater, however, ran almost immediately into financial trouble and it sold off the theater two years later.

Things continued to go downhill from there as the state's economy faltered and the audience for classical performances declined. The company's last season was in 2008; no performances were attempted in 2009. BerkshireFineArts did a story on its economic woes early last year.

There's still hope for opera lovers; the Mahaiwe offers a number of performances simulcast live in high-definition from New York City's Metropolitan opera.

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Chamber News

Staff Reports

Berkshire Chamber
The chamber's going to announce its new youth leadership program on Friday morning. We'll be there to report the event but we can tell you it will include a partnership with Berkshire Community College that will allow program graduates to earn college credits.

The Pittsfield Co-operative Bank is offering an incentive for start-ups that do business with them — a free one-year membership in the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. The partnership's goal is to promote chamber membership and economic growth.

"It's not enough to be a willing and well-capitalized lender for our customers, it's tremendously important that we're also building relationships as a financial partner, contributing to the economic and social vitality of the Berkshire community," says bank President Jay Anderson. To learn more about the chamber and its programs, visit www.berkshirechamber.com.

Southern Berkshire Chamber
The next Business After Hours event is Thursday, Feb. 11, from 5:30 to 7:30 at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. RSVP to Joy at visitor@southernberkshirechamber.com or 413-528-1510.

Chamber members will be also be receiving a survey on future programs and membership benefits. Filling it out will help the chamber better serve its members.

Lenox Chamber

The following members have been elected to serve the Chamber of Commerce for a one-year term as officers: President Ken Fowler, Shear Design; Vice President Bob Romeo, Franklin Street Reality; Secretary Jim Terry, Villager Gifts; Treasurer Judy Culver, Purple Plume

The following members have been nominated to serve the chamber for three-year terms as board members: Dawn Carberry, Berkshire Coupon; Dawn Ramsey-Jacobsson, Cranwell; Peggy Roethel, Garden Gables Inn and Joel Catalano, Apple Tree Inn.

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