Mayor Linda Tyer and Business Development Manager Michael Coakley were just a few of those who toured the building on Thursday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Shire City Herbals has completed a $1.4 million project to build its own commercial kitchen and warehouse space.
In two weeks, the makers of Fire Cider will start operating out of 15 Commercial St., where the company purchased the former Protech building and embarked on a massive renovation of the interior.
Co-owner Dana St. Pierre said the company will be able to produce significantly more of the vinegar tonic and it has recently signed a contract exporting the product to Canada.
"The fact that we will have it exclusively for our use and we can tailor the layout and there isn't a three-hour round trip, conservatively using the existing equipment we are going to be able to go about 10 times our production," St. Pierre said.
St. Pierre and his wife, Amy Huebner, led a tour of the facility on Thursday. There is space for warehousing -- which Shire City Herbals is renting portions to other small local businesses -- office space, and a commercial kitchen. The company only needs the final approval from the Food and Drug Administration before the kitchen is active.
"We're now exporting to Canada on a large scale," St. Pierre said.
The company began out of the couple's home on Wendell Avenue.
St. Pierre had been making the old-fashioned New England cure-all concoction for himself. In late 2010, he made a batch to sell at the Handmade Holiday Festival. And it was popular.
St. Pierre, Amy Huebner, and Brian Huebner formed the company and it grew from there. Amy Huebner said their first production space was the kitchen at the Unitarian Church also on Wendell Avenue.
"They were very nice. They let us use their kitchen for $25 a day. And, very quickly, were like 'you guys smell, and things are stained with turmeric,' so we were eventually to move into the [Franklin County] CDC kitchen," she said.
They've been operating there ever since. Eventually, they opened warehouse and office space on West Housatonic Street, in the same building as Blue Q and Lymphdivas. But the company continued to grow and was quickly running out of capacity to make enough to keep up with the demand.
By 2016, the company saw very clearly that the growth it was seeing -- then around 45 percent -- was unsustainable with the current set up.
They started touring properties throughout the county, with an eye to stay in Pittsfield. And then they found the Commercial Street location.
"As soon as it came on the market, a day later we saw it and went after it," Amy Huebner said.
They met with the mayor's office and banks to piece together the finance package they needed. The City Council approved a tax incentive agreement about this time last year
to help the numbers match -- with an expectation that Shire City Herbals expands by 10 new jobs by 2021 and invest at least a half million into the property.
Mayor Linda Tyer, who joined the tour with a number of city officials and representatives from local banking institutions, said the project is a perfect example of how different entities can come together to help a locally-grown business. She remembered the early conversations she had with Shire City Herbals about the investment.
"I'm so thrilled you chose our city to expand your business. This is your home. You are raising your son here. It means a lot to us," Tyer told the couple. "This is an example of what can happen with a lot of help from the economic development team that makes up the city and the region, our banks who help our companies when they need funding to expand and grow. This is a perfect of what is possible when they all join together."
Shire City Herbals closed on the property in early 2017 and began renovations. Eventually, more than $1 million was invested into the building. The $1.2 million project, including the purchase of the property, grew to become a $1.4 million project. At the same time, the company saw some 30 percent growth, St. Pierre said.
Now, "we can let the hounds loose and see what this company is capable of," St. Pierre said.
The company is now employing 19 people full time, up from 14 a year ago. They're exporting to all 50 states and have plans to expand their international trade. They have new products they've been waiting to develop and have space set aside to build their own bottling operations -- currently, they export the product in bulk to Connecticut for that -- to further increase efficiency.
"We have a lot of ideas for other products, some in the same vein some not in the same vein, and we haven't been able to pursue them because we didn't have the space," St. Pierre said.
When St. Pierre first started making the drink in the 1990s, he wasn't even thinking about selling it. But, now he's worked through the pains of adapting his recipe made for the size of a Mason jar into a larger-scale, exportable product.
"We didn't have this kind of aspiration when we started but we immediately saw the demand. We got an incredibly positive response everywhere we went and so the business has grown to where it is now. We see more growth in the future," St. Pierre said.
And Tyer said the growth of Fire Cider is an example of a key part of the city's economic strategy moving forward.
"Our best days are ahead and we have to support our small, mid-sized business, the ones that are here now that are successful and growing. While we hope to recruit new businesses from outside of our city and outside of our region, our greatest strength is in the companies that are here now," Tyer said.