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Pungl is the result of a brainstorm by 15-year-old Zachary Goffin, a native of Great Barrington.

Biz Briefs: Berkshires-Based Pungl Ready to Expand Nationwide

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Gifts that give back

Just in time for holiday gifting, Pungl has launched the world's first marketplace for unique, meaningful gifts that give back. Through the Pungl marketplace, anyone in the country can shop by location or charitable cause, and then make a donation to that cause in their own name or in the name of a loved one. The organization will follow up with a personalized thank-you, to show how those dollars are making a difference.

Pungl connects donors with worthy organizations, whether in their backyard or halfway across the world. Donors can use the Pungl marketplace to search for a variety of fundraising opportunities, from arts and culture programming to projects that support services in a town or community, or causes that have global impact, like animal welfare and refugee aid. Donors purchase the gift for themselves, or to celebrate a friend or family member’s birthday, anniversary, personal accomplishment, or memory. Some gifts can even be named in honor of the donor or gift recipient, leaving a lasting legacy.

Although Pungl will roll out nationwide in the coming months, it started locally and features "shops" from a variety of renowned Berkshire profits and organizations, including CHP, Berkshire Pulse, Bidwell House and WAM Theatre. Pungl is the result of a brainstorm by 15-year-old Zachary Goffin, a native of Great Barrington and an avid athlete and eBay shopper. Zach attended the birthday party of a friend, who requested that partygoers not bring gifts. Shortly after, at a sporting event, he spied some bricks outside the stadium with donors’ names engraved on them, and had a lightbulb moment.

Because the projects featured on Pungl are accessible to people from a range of backgrounds and budgets, Pungl offers us all an equal opportunity to pay tribute to those we love and to make a positive impact on the lives of others. Information online.


Gaining entry

BerkShares' "Entry to Entrepreneurship" program, which guides students through the process of writing a business plan, while maintaining a special focus on the local economy, will start a new round of classes on January. Participants are asked to consider what we are currently importing to this region that we could be producing for ourselves instead and are encouraged to look at these "gaps" in the local economy as business opportunities.

The program is offered by BerkShares in partnership with the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network’s Berkshire Regional Office and in collaboration with Berkshire Community College, whose South County Center hosts the weekly class sessions. Classes will begin on Jan. 24 and will run for 10 weeks, meeting on Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m.

Over the 10-week program, students benefit from the expertise and support of the local business people who volunteer their time in the classroom as instructors, mentors, advisors and business plan reviewers. The program will culminate in a public presentation of business ideas by students to an audience of community members on April 11. Applications are due on Dec. 31 with a deposit of $50 or 50 BerkShares. Apply online.


Top honors

The United States Small Business Administration recognized Berkshire Bank as the "Top SBA Lender to Veterans" for fiscal year 2017 in Massachusetts. In addition, Berkshire Bank was the top 7a Lender in overall loan activity totaling 100 loans for $5.570 million for small businesses in the Western Massachusetts region.

The U.S. Small Business Administration reported that Massachusetts' small business owners received 2,549 loans supporting over $351 million in fiscal year 2017 (Oct. 1, 2016, through Sept. 30, 2017) through its business loan programs.
Berkshire Bank is a preferred Small Business Administration lender, works closely with SCORE and business development centers, is a participant in the Massachusetts Treasurer's Office Small Business Partnership Program and offers a full suite of financial services for small businesses. Berkshire's Small Business division is dedicated to helping business customers grow their companies and invests in the surrounding communities to help strive for success.


Good practice

Greylock Insurance Agency, a subsidiary of Greylock Federal Credit Union, has achieved Best Practices status from the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. With this status, the agency, for the second consecutive year, becomes part of an elite group of independent insurance agencies around the United States. Greylock Insurance achieved this honor by participating in the IIABA Best Practices Study Group. This annual survey and study of leading independent insurance agencies documents the business practices of the "best" agencies and urges others to adopt similar practices.

The selected Best Practices agencies retain their status during the three-year cycle by submitting extensive financial and operational data for review each year. This is the second year of the current three-year study cycle, where over 1500 independent agencies throughout the U.S. were nominated to take part in the annual study in 2016. To be chosen, the agency had to be among the 35-45 top-performing agencies in one of six revenue categories.


Real changes

Steve Ray, one of the most successful and respected real estate brokers in Berkshire County, has ended his long-term relationship with Assist-2-Sell in Reno, Nev. Over the last 14 years as a discount broker, his company experienced unprecedented growth offering consumers creative options and team oriented service.

The company name has changed to Berkshire Real Estate Associates. The new company will continue to offer same team approach to customer service as well as options for sellers. Located at 2 South St. in Pittsfield, the company has seen its focus expand in recent years to include commercial sales and leasing, farms and land. Two new associates have been added to the team, with the expectation of adding two more in the first quarter of 2018.

Ray, a 25-year veteran of the real estate industry, started in the early 1990s at Ruffer Real Estate, buying the company in 1999. His experience includes residential and commercial sales, as well as land development and construction. Ray, known for his innovative approach in real estate, was the 2015 Realtor of the Year and is the 2018 president of the Berkshire County Multiple Listing Service.

Additionally, the company has announced its Agents of Change Charitable Giving Program. The company will donate 5 percent of its net commission income to one five local charities: Soldier On, Berkshire County Arc, Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires, Berkshire Humane Society and the Pittsfield Parade Committee. Each organization will receive a check at each closing from Berkshire Real Estate Associates.

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Biz Briefs: Catherine's Chocolates Changes Name to Mielke Confections

Chocolate changes

Steve and Trent Kinney, the new owners of the Great Barrington landmark store Catherine's Chocolates, have announced a new name, look and logo. The original Catherine's Chocolates Store was named for the grandmother of the former owner, Kathy Sinico, and operated for 40 years under that name. The Kinneys are continuing the tradition of a family-owned local business, creating handmade quality chocolates in the same location, as well as their choice of the new name, which is Trent Kinney’s family name.

The logo, designed by Trent, has a simple upscale look in ivory, chocolate and gold and features a modernist allusion to a chocolate bean. The familiar well-known and well-liked chocolates will still be offered. "We want to stress to our customers that even though our name and look is changing, the quality products and service will remain the same as they have come to expect from the local chocolate shop," Steve Kinney said.

The Kinneys made headlines in April when they purchased Catherine's Chocolates this spring, finalizing the transfer of ownership right before Easter. Trent and Steve met while serving in the Army and stationed in Afghanistan. Steve has retired, and Trent is serving his last tour of duty and will retire in the fall. Steve Kinney grew up in Pittsfield. Kathy Sinico worked closely with the couple prior to the finalization of the sale.

The business makeover also will include a domain and website where Mielke's confections will continue to be available for purchase online. The chocolate shop will remain in the same location, and while outside has been painted dark chocolate brown, the interior has no changes yet. Plans to remodel the inside are in the works, but not immediate. While maintaining Catherine's Chocolate's time-honored hand-made traditions and offerings, some new hand-made products are available, such as Mielke Confections "Turtle Delights" made with the classic "Nut Delight" candy base with the addition of whole pecans, caramel and chocolate drizzle in the shape of a turtle. "We are constantly experimenting with new creations and hope to continue to add more to our menu in the near future," Steve Kinney said.


Stop & Shop Same-Day Online Pick-Up

Stop & Shop has launched same-day online pick-up for Peapod by Stop & Shop orders at its Pittsfield store, located at 660 Merrill Road, and the service will be coming soon in North Adams. The new offering provides local customers with a faster and more convenient way to shop with pick-up available in as little as four hours. Customers can now place an order online, head to the store, and have a Stop & Shop associate load their groceries right into their car.

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