Benoit Seeks At-Large Seat to Advocate for Small Businesses
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Back in December 2020, Hot Dog Ranch proprietor Craig Benoit stood outside of City Hall with a coalition of eatery owners he had formed to fight the Pittsfield-specific ban on indoor dining that was affecting their businesses.
As a result, Mayor Linda Tyer offered a compromise that restored indoor dining and gave Benoit and his colleagues their livelihood back.
This was when he knew that his voice could inspire change in the community and in turn, decided that it was time to run for one of the four at-large seats on the City Council.
"I spearheaded a restaurant coalition to go out and fight for our rights in City Hall, and it ended up hearing out well, we ended up getting together with the mayor, we ended up getting back open," Benoit said.
"I felt it was time, that we need some small businesses or somebody who is not a politician in politics to help the people who aren't politicians."
After going to school for accounting, Benoit got into the restaurant business about 35 years ago with leadership roles in various eateries in North Adams and Lanesborough.
He bought the Hot Dog Ranch with his business partner in 2004 and expanded the operation.
"We took a small business, from probably six employees to get the current right now today, including my North Adams store which I just sold, to 57 employees," he said.
"I have 43 employees here, or 45, so that is a pretty big operation in the community."
With the sale of the Hot Dog Ranch's second location in North Adams, Benoit said he now has time to dedicate to the needs of the city. He said he has been preparing for his bid since early this year.
Benoit wants to advocate for small businesses while highlighting the good in Pittsfield to spark positive change.
After the onset of COVID-19, he fears for other members of the industry and recognizes that attracting small businesses is important for bettering the city. One of his suggestions is to streamline the permitting process for potential business owners.
"Slowly, but surely, we're losing small business, losing small restaurants," he said. "It is going to come down to all we're going to have left is the chains."
Benoit saw the effects of city policy firsthand when he had to suddenly pivot to indoor dining in November after a surge of COVID-19 cases occurred following Halloween.
In this situation, he wished for there to be industry representation on Tyer's COVID-19 task force.
"When we got shut down that two weeks by the mayor, it not only affected me, but it affected all of my employees, affected everybody, and that's one of the reasons why I got in," he said.
"And I asked the mayor if there were any restaurant people on her COVID board, she said 'no' and I said, 'well, I think there should be representation,' and I don't know what the answer was, but we never got representation on the board and calling all of the other councilors I didn't get any answers that I was happy with, so that leads back to why I'm running."
Being in the restaurant business, Benoit said he communicates with a large number of people each day and hears their concerns. Many people have reportedly voiced distaste for the one-lane configuration and bike lane addition on North Street while others have expressed concern for the people panhandling at busy intersections.
He places a large emphasis on public safety and recognizes that Pittsfield will not be a destination without addressing the crime and violence that occurs.
"My biggest thing is public safety, the shootings in the city, the crime in the city, the drugs, that's our top priority, until that's gone away, what is there to attract people to the city of Pittsfield?" Benoit said.
"We need the Fire Department we need our roads clear, we need our roads nice, we need just to attract new businesses, we need new businesses, this city is slowly dying, if we don't get more down here, eventually it's just going to just keep getting smaller and smaller."
Because of the multidisciplinary skills required to be a business owner, he believes that he would be a great asset to the council.
You have to wear many hats to be a successful business owner, Benoit said, including looking into finance, staffing, and all aspects of the operation that can be translated well to the city.
When asked why he ran for an at-large seat instead of a seat in Ward 3, where he resides, he explained that he meets residents from all areas of Pittsfield at the Hot Dog Ranch and would like to be able to help everyone.
For outreach, he has held a fundraiser at Berkshire Hills Country Club that he said attracted around 160 people. His campaign can also be found on Facebook and he anticipates putting out lawn signs soon.
"I'm trying to keep a basic format right now, to concentrate on these few things that I think are the most important," he said. "There are other issues that will come up down the line, and I'll address them at that point."
Tags: election 2021, municipal election,