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The Small Business Administration has named Lenox Fit Inc. and owner Suzanne Merritt the 2019 Woman Small Business Owner of the Year for Massachusetts. (Courtesy Lenox Fit)

Biz Briefs: Lenox Fit Owner Named Woman Small Business Owner of the Year

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Lenox Fit honor

The Small Business Administration has named Lenox Fit Inc. and owner Suzanne Merritt the 2019 Woman Small Business Owner of the Year for Massachusetts. Lenox Fit earned the recognition for increasing economic development and job creation in the Berkshires region.  Lenox Fit is a multi-dimensional fitness and wellness facility that serves Berkshire County region.  The customers range from rehab/post rehab from physical therapy, to advanced athletes and fitness enthusiasts of every level.  

"It is an honor to recognize Suzanne Merritt for being an amazing entrepreneur and overcoming adversity both personally and in business along her path to the success," said SBA Massachusetts District Director Robert Nelson. "We are delighted to recognize her accomplishments as an entrepreneur and as an inspiration to her community."

In 2012, Merritt was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, receiving treatment at Dana Farber Cancer Institute for more than a year while maintaining her job at the fitness center as a trainer. During the recovery process, she reached out to the owners and offered to buy Lenox Fitness Center.   

In 2016, she finalized the closing process for the new Lenox Fit facility with SBA 504 financing, supported by Carol Brennan of BDC Capital and March McKenna of Lee Bank. Proceeds were used for new equipment, renovations and improvements to the fitness center. In four years as the new owner, Merritt has increased sales by 28 percent and today employs 22 staff members.

"As my business has grown, I have learned how important it is to hire the right people to support my mission in the fitness and wellness industry.  There are so many facets involved in running a successful small business, but the most important is the people who work together as a team to accomplish all that we do each day," Merritt said. "I am proud of my team and all that they individually and collectively do each day to make Lenox Fit the place where our members and guests feel welcomed, valued and listened to. Our attention to detail and our willingness to go the extra mile, truly makes all the difference."

Merritt gives back to a number of charities supporting cancer research and support groups.  Each year, she participates in the annual Pan Mass Challenge – raising nearly $100,000 in the last seven years.  Merritt is also involved with the local Relay for Life campaign, mentoring other cancer patients and offering guidance from her personal experience with cancer.

The company was nominated by Nancy Shulman, senior business adviser at the Berkshire Regional MSBDC office, a staff member of UMass Amherst Isenberg School of Management. Merritt will be honored at the annual SCORE Boston / SBA awards luncheon along with other 2019 Massachusetts Small Business Week winners at Assumption College on Wednesday, May 8.


North Adams Career Center

Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires and Southern Vermont will hold a grand opening of its new Career Center, located in its retail store at 166 State St. in North Adams, on Wednesday, May 8, from 3 to 5 p.m. A ribbon cutting will be held at 3:30 p.m., with remarks by North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard and Christa Collier, executive director of Northern Berkshire United Way. The public is invited to attend the event, which is free of charge.

Walk-in hours in the North Adams Career Center are held Mondays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesdays from 1 to 4 p.m. to assist job seekers with resume writing, interview coaching, online job applications, self-presentation, and interview appropriate clothing.

The nonprofit organization's Career Centers in North Adams and at its headquarters at 158 Tyler St. also offer "Employability Workshops" that address the types of soft skills most in demand by employers Tuesday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first full week every month in North Adams and the third full week every month in Pittsfield. The three-day sessions cover a range of skills including communication, organization, teamwork, punctuality, critical thinking, social skills, creativity, problem solving, interpersonal communication, adaptability and friendliness. Upon successful completion of the workshop, participants are awarded a certification and receive additional one-on-one assistance to personalize job searches.


'Choose Your Subaru'

Berkshire Humane Society and Haddad Subaru have launched their seveth annual Subaru Car Raffle, though this year's raffle features a new "Choose Your Subaru" twist: One lucky winner will have their choice of a 2020 Subaru Crosstrek Limited, Forester Premium, or Outback Premium with a package value up to $33,000.

Tickets are one for $40 or three for $100. The raffle is limited to 2,400 tickets; if a minimum of 1,000 tickets are not sold, the raffle will convert to a 50/50 drawing of the net proceeds. The winner will be drawn on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 1 p.m. at Berkshire Humane Society during the Fall Open House event.

Berkshire Humane Society has an annual budget of more than $1.4 million, touching the lives of more than 2,000 animals every single year through adoption and surrender, medical care, spay/neuter efforts, vaccine clinics, Pet Food Bank, and Family Dog School. BHS’s humane education programs reach more than 1,000 people annually, and the signature SafePet Program, which provides free, temporary pet care for people who are in crisis, continues to expand through its collaboration with Berkshire Medical Center, the Elizabeth Freeman Center, The Brien Center, and Elder Services of Berkshire County.

Tickets are on sale at the shelter (214 Barker Road, Pittsfield), Haddad Subaru (652 East St., Pittsfield), Greylock Animal Hospital (1028 State Road, North Adams), and Purradise (301 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington). Tickets will soon be on sale at a variety of locations including: Baker's Golf Center (Lanesborough), Bartlett's Orchard (Richmond), and Catwalk Boutique (Lenox & Great Barrington). Other locations to be announced.


Great Place to Work

Edward Jones once again was named the No. 1 Best Workplace in Financial Services & Insurance by Great Place to Work and Fortune magazine.  This is the second consecutive year for the honor.

The ranking considered input from more than 726,000 employees in the financial services and insurance sector. Great Place to Work, a global people analytics and consulting firm, evaluated more than 60 elements of team members' experience on the job. These included the extent to which employees trust leaders, the respect with which people are treated, the fairness of workplace decisions, and how much camaraderie there is among the team. Rankings are based on employees' feedback and reward companies who best include all employees, no matter who they are or what they do for the organization.

"We strive to be an organization of professionals who know that what is important to them matters; that our firm has an established process to help them determine the goals that are most meaningful, and the strategies that help them to accomplish those goals; and that we are a destination for a lifetime of meaningful work and impact to our clients, our communities and ourselves," said Edward Jones Managing Partner Penny Pennington.

Locally, Robert Adams and Branch Office Administrator Patricia Kolis can be reached at 71 Main S., North Adams, by phone at 413-664-9253 or online.


'Housing Our Workforce'

The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank has been selected to participate in Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston's (FHLBank Boston) Housing Our Workforce program. Launched this year, HOW provides assistance to FHLBank Boston financial institution members to help local homebuyers earning more than 80 percent and up to 120 percent of the area median income with down payments on owner-occupied primary residences.

The $2 million program offers a two-to-one match of down payments made at the time of purchase by eligible homebuyers. Borrowers can receive up to $20,000 in assistance on a first-come, first-served basis.

"Many homeownership programs are designed to assist lower-income individuals and families. It is often challenging for those in a slightly higher income range to afford housing, particularly in communities where home prices are escalating. With this program, a greater number of borrowers who are incredibly important to the economic well-being of our communities will be able to achieve homeownership," said Michael E. Barbieri, SVP Residential and Consumer Lending at the Pittsfield Cooperative Bank.

The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank is eligible to receive up to $100,000 in 2019 through Housing Our Workforce depending on availability of funds. To learn more about applying for assistance, contact Richard Whalen at 413-629-1610.


Mom's Day Off donation

Bromley Mountain Ski Resort's President Bill Cairns presented $5,000 to President and CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Care Thomas A. Dee on Thursday, April 4, at Bromley.

The donation — which was given in support of women's cancer care at Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center in Bennington, part of SVHC — was raised through Bromley's "Mom’s Day Off" events on Friday, February 8 and Friday, March 8. Two hundred mothers received a $25 lift ticket when they showed a photo of their child or children at the resort’s ticket window. The entire value of the ticket was donated.

Southwestern Vermont Health Care is a comprehensive, preeminent, health care system providing exceptional, convenient and affordable care to the communities of Bennington and Windham Counties of Vermont, eastern Rensselaer and Washington Counties of New York, and northern Berkshire County in Massachusetts. SVHC includes Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center, the Centers for Living and Rehabilitation, and the SVHC Foundation. SVMC includes 25 primary and specialty care practices.


Pet Month' at Big Y

Big Y World Class Markets is holding its fifth annual "May is Pet Month" donation drive. The first four years of this program collected more than 175,000 pounds of pet food and supplies to almost 70 different local animal shelters within Big Y's marketing region.

The program, which will run in all 70 Big Y stores through May 29, encourages shoppers to purchase food and other supplies for a local shelter as part of the company’s ongoing effort to give back to the community. Last year's donations resulted in 25,000 pounds of pet food and supplies for 45 local shelters.

Both customers and employees are involved with Pet Month. Many employees decorate their store’s donation bins with pictures of their family pets. Customers also donate other needed pet items such as pet food, collars, leashes, cat litter, and pet toys.

Big Y is partnering with iHeart Media and Pure Harmony pet food to promote Pet Month. Returning to the program this year will be $1 donation cards at each register to benefit the MSCPA-Angell of Massachusetts (with their four locations throughout MA), Kenway's Cause, Connecticut Humane Society, and The Hometown Foundation (which supports more than 15 animal rescues/shelters). Another way to donate is by purchasing a Big Y Cares reusable shopping bag. Available at every store, one dollar for each bag purchased will be donated to a local shelter.

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Shakespeare & Company Names Interim Director of Center For Actor Training

LENOX, Mass. — Shakespeare & Company recently appointed Susan Dibble as interim director for the company's Center for Actor Training.

Dibble, a founding member of Shakespeare & Company, is an educator and artist. Her movement work was seen on stage this past season in "Twelfth Night" and for the past four decades she has been faculty member for the training program, teaching at the Month Long Intensive, Summer Shakespeare Intensive (formerly the Summer Training Institute), and various workshops.
"We're truly thrilled to welcome Susan Dibble on board as interim director of training," said Artistic Director Allyn Burrows. "Susan has a keen eye on all that is exciting about the training program and the company's work: a vigilance toward the specificity of language and honesty in acting, a generosity of spirit, and a clarity of purpose on stage. She brings a depth of knowledge from within and a breadth of experience from elsewhere that will enrich the training on a personal and a professional level for all participants going forward."

Dibble is a choreographer, dancer and teacher. She graduated from SUNY College at Purchase with a B.F.A. in Dance in 1976. For the past 39 years, she has worked at Shakespeare & Company as a master teacher of movement and dance for actors, movement director and choreographer, at the same time teaching at a variety of universities including the NYU Tisch MFA in Acting Program. She joined the faculty of the Theater Arts Department at Brandeis University, where she is a full professor and teaches Movement for Actors, Modern Dance, Choreography, Clown, Mask, Period Styles, and Historical Dance. She has been on the faculty at Brandeis for 31 years and served as Theater Arts Department chair for eight years. Dibble received the 2006 Leonard Bernstein Festival of Creative Arts Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Arts at Brandeis.

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