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Sue Bush
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Benches Bring “Hot Seats” to Main Street

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Elaine Tremblay and Sylvia Liporace of North Adams shared a bench during a Nov. 1 downtown stroll. The bench was later removed from the street voluntarily by Moulton's Pizzeria co-owner and City Councilor Robert Moulton Jr..
North Adams – A simmering debate about restoring benches to the city’s downtown bubbled to a boiling point on Nov. 1, when City Council candidate Christopher Tremblay of 57 Harris Street delivered three small benches to Main and Eagle streets.

The benches were purchased by the Tremblay-owned Tremblay Electric business for about $400 and donated “to the residents of North Adams,” Tremblay said during a Nov. 1 morning interview.

Tremblay also owns the “Berkshires Best” shop. Both businesses are located at the Windsor Mill on Union Street.

"Proactive Approach"

“I took a proactive approach,” Tremblay said. “The citizens of North Adams have been asking for benches. The Mayor [Mayor John Barrett III] has said he wouldn’t mind if business owners had them and took them in at night. I put my money where my mouth is; these were my funds. I want to support the downtown. I have already stated that if I am elected to the city council, any stipend I receive will go to a fund to aid downtown business development. People talk a lot about doing things; I took action. I did something. The public has asked for [benches] and I provided [benches].”

"Publicity Stunt"

Speaking shortly before noon on Nov. 1, Barrett termed Tremblay’s action a “publicity stunt.”

Tremblay is being fined $100 per day by the city for refusing to remove a horizontal Berkshires Best sign from an exterior Windsor Mill wall. City officials have said that the sign is not the vertical business sign that was approved in June by the city’s Planning Board. Tremblay has said that he believes city's actions are not just or fair, and that he is asserting his legal right to contest the fines. He has not paid the fines, Tremblay has said.The matter is slated for a Nov. 17 hearing at the Northern Berkshire District Court.

Tremblay is a former member of the city’s Conservation Commission. His first term expired on Aug. 31 and although he was interested in serving a second ConCom term, Barrett did not reappoint him, Tremblay has said.

Barrett said that Tremblay is attempting to resurrect “negativity” that once permeated city council meetings and other city matters.

“This is just awful,” Barrett said. “Chris Tremblay has been confrontational through this whole matter. He’s trying to go back to all the negativity that I thought we were done with. I am so disappointed that the taxpayers have spent millions on all the downtown efforts and someone comes along and tries to promote themselves like this.”

A bench purchased by City Council candidate Christopher Tremblay sat at the front of a Verizon Wireless store on Main Street during Nov. 1.
The benches were stationed in front of the Verizon Wireless store and Moulton’s Pizzeria on Main Street and Gideon’s Luncheon and Nightery on Eagle Street. Tremblay said that the business owners agreed to host the benches and remove them from the sidewalks during the evening.

Planning Board OK Needed, Says Barrett

According to Barrett, business owners who want benches must bring a proposal to the Planning Board and acquire permission for benches. Barrett said that benches are considered outdoor seating and added that several businesses, including the Brew-ha-ha eatery, the former Applachian Bean pastry and coffee shop, and Gideon’s luncheon had asked for, and been granted, outdoor seating for restaurant patrons.

“I can’t think of one case where [outdoor seating] has been denied,” he said.

Barrett termed the benches Tremblay purchased “cheap” and “flimsy” and said that any business owner accepting responsibility for a bench would face possible liability action if the benches caused injury to someone.

“The Planning Board wouldn’t allow such a cheap, flimsy, bench,” Barrett said.

A Tremblay Electric business card is attached to the benches, and Barrett said that the posting of the card on public property is illegal.

"Private Property," Says Tremblay

Tremblay said that because he purchased the benches using his own private business revenues and because private business owners agreed to take responsibility for bringing them inside at night, the benches are private property. He is not “a millionaire,” he said, and added that he did the best he could with the funds he had when he purchased the benches. The benches he purchased are similar to benches located at the city-owned Colgrove Park and are made of painted wood with steel frames, Tremblay said.

“They are made for two people to sit on and they are not meant to hold 1,000 pounds,” Tremblay said.

Tremblay said that Barrett has publicly stated that he has no objection to business owners placing benches on the street in front of their shops with the caveat that the benches be removed from the street during the evening.

"Opinion" Show Comments

Barrett made such a statement recently during a 1230 AM radio station WNAW “Opinion” listener call-in program in response to a caller’s question, Tremblay said.

An audio tape recording of the program, which was broadcast as a live show, indicates that a female caller first asked Barrett a question pertaining to the city’s public library, and then asked him about benches on Main Street.

According to the tape, Barrett responded by saying “We’ve indicated to the business owners, and I haven’t seen anyone throw any benches out there, if they want to put benches out in front of their stores and take them in at night, they can certainly do so.”

According to the tape, Barrett also stated that benches that once lined downtown streets were removed at the request of business owners. The caller then asked Barrett how long ago that particular situation occurred.

City Councilor Clark Billings made similar remarks during a Sept. 28 interview at the offices. The interview included a videotape, which may be viewed at the web site.

While discussing downtown development near the tape’s conclusion, Billings said that Barrett was unopposed to business owners purchasing benches and placing them in front of their businesses as private property, as long as the benches were removed from the sidewalk at night. Billings said that city action might be required if a business owner wanted to permanently attach a bench.

City Building Inspector William Meranti visited the three businesses hosting the benches during the morning. Meranti referred media questions to Barrett, and Barrett said that Meranti was not ordering people to remove the benches but was advising them to come before the Planning Board if they wanted benches at their establishments.

At 2 p.m., the benches at Gideons and the Verizon store remained on the sidewalk but the pizzeria bench had been removed.

One Bench Removed By Afternoon

Pizzeria co-owner and City Councilor Robert Moulton Jr., who operates the pizza shop with his brother Mark Moulton, said that he opted to remove the bench after being told by Barrett that the business needed Planning Board permission before putting a bench on the pedestrian way.

Robert Moulton Jr. is seeking reelection to the city council during a Nov. 8 city election; Mark Moulton is a member of the North Adams Public Schools School Committee and is seeking reelection unopposed.

“It appears it has to go before the Planning Board and once I was made aware of that, I pulled [the bench] in,” Robert Moulton Jr. said. “We want to do everything we can to be in compliance.”

However, Mark Moulton, who solely owns Moulton’s General Store on Main Street, said during a telephone interview that he gave Tremblay permission to place a bench on the sidewalk in front of the pizza shop and also agreed to bring the bench indoors at night. Mark Moulton said that he did not seek city permission for tables, chairs, and benches that have been outside the general store during spring, summer, and autumn since the business opened in 2002.

One of two wooden benches that sat in front of Moulton's General Store, owned by North Adams Public Schools School Committee member Mark Moulton, during the day on Nov. 1.

“I’ve had tables and chairs, benches, out there since 2002 and no one has ever said that I couldn’t put them out there,” Moulton said. “And I’m not going to move them. If there’s an ordinance about it, I want to see it.”

Barrett said that if Mark Moulton has not received Planning Board permission for the outdoor seating, the seating is “illegal.”

Sitting in the Sunshine

Meanwhile, passersby on the street were seen looking at the benches, and before it was removed, the bench at the pizzeria held two occupants.

Elaine Tremblay, who acknowledged that she is Tremblay’s grandmother, shared the bench with Sylvia Liporace. Both women live in North Adams.

Elaine Tremblay said that, as an “older resident,” she believes benches should be permitted on the downtown streets.

“I am older, so I do enjoy having a place to sit and rest,” she said.

Liporace said that she is aware that groups of youth gathered around benches became a nuisance for downtown business during past years, but said that the benches Tremblay purchased are small and are placed very close to the buildings.

“These are small enough benches that I really don’t think the kids would bother with them,” she said. “It is nice to have a place to sit and enjoy the sunshine.”

Bench Interest

Monique Suters, owner of the Persnickety toy store on Eagle Street, said that she has an interest in acquiring a "nice bench" for the front of the toy store and the adjacent Sugar Llama Café, operated by her husband Whitney Suters.

Suters emphasized that she was not speaking about the Tremblay benches or their placement. She stressed that she was speaking only of her general interest in a bench at her business and that as a business owner, she would oversee any potential bench purchase and placement. It would be helpful to know what type of bench might be accepted city officials, she said.

“I think it would be nice to have a bench out in the front here,” Suters said.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.
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