Gus Jammalo gives Gene Kemp a trim, the last one his well-known barbership. Jammalo says, at 87, it's time for him to go fishing and spend time with his family.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The year 2021, the second year of the pandemic, saw a return of community events, devastating fires, abrupt departures, a successful vaccination program, major buildings changing hands downtown and the election of a new, more diverse government, including the city's first woman mayor.
That a woman would finally take the corner office for the first time in North Adams' 126-year history was already in the cards by the closing of nominations in July. Only women for the first time would vie for mayor: Lynette Bond, Rachel Branch, Aprilynn Carsno and Jennifer Macksey.
The incoming City Council would also be breaking new ground with elections of Michael Obasohan and Ashley Shade. Obasohan is believed to be the first Black person elected to the council and Shade the first transgender person.
While there was a short-lived social media campaign to "oust the incumbents" and calls for write-ins, all six incumbents on the ballot were easily re-elected.
The council's past two years were rocky: there were three presidents in four months, four councilors stepped down and the panel went two months with seven members. The first to leave was Robert Moulton Jr. in 2020 but three more resigned this past year, two of them council presidents.
Bryan Sapienza would be voted in by the council to replace Hopkins and Harpin (whose name was still on the ballot) would be reseated along with Obasohan after the election. Peter Oleskiewicz had joined the council last year after Moulton left.
The new nine-member council is Jennifer Barbeau, Lisa Blackmer, Keith Bona, Harpin, Obasohan, Oleskiewicz, Sapienza, Shade and Wayne Wilkinson.
The Northern Berkshire regional vaccination center opened on Jan. 11 to a capacity crowd; on June 17, the very last person to be inoculated walked out the door at 7:06 p.m.
In between those five to six months, the collaborative held 40 clinics
and administered 24,913 doses of vaccine for the novel coronavirus. The North Berkshire clinic was one of three under the umbrella of the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative and was run by the Northern Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee and Northern Berkshire EMS.
Vaccinations and declining cases (at least until the omicron variant hit in the fall) allowed the resumption of favorite community activities with the lifting of a state of emergency
on June 15. There was no Memorial Day Parade but there in-person graduations for Drury
high schools; the Downtown Celebration; a mini Motorama; the Neighborlies
, and the Fall Foliage Parade.
The city's new fire chief found himself dealing with two major fires in a short period. Brent Lefebvre was appointed in March as the new fire chief
, replacing Stephen Meranti, who retired after 17 years.
The city had two major fires in one month that required help from dozens of fire departments.
In May, a brush fire on East Mountain
spread through Clarksburg State Forest and into Williamstown, burning a 1,000 acres. More than 120 firefighters from 19 different communities and the state worked to contain it.
Not two weeks later, a blaze at George Apkin & Sons
was started by a battery sparking during the scrapping of a junk car into baling unit. It spread to a pile of cars and car parts 100 feet long and two stories tall. Dozens of firefighters from as far away as Orange and Northampton brought the massive blaze under control in about 24 hours.
But it would be two house fires earlier in the year that would create a firestorm of controversy over the state of the city's fire hydrants. Broken or missing hydrants affected efforts to control the blazes at Greylock Apartments
and on Veazie Street
and an audit found about 130 fireplugs
in various states of disrepair.
The City Council would approve the mayor's request to borrow $300,000
to fix the problem but the hydrant issue would continue to highlight the infrastructure problems plaguing the city, as Bernard had outlined in his state of the city address in February.
This would include the public safety building
, a longstanding problem that would become one of the main topics in the mayoral race.
No building has probably seen as much discussion over the past two years as the long vacant Mohawk Theater. The structure was declared surplus last year and, in a second request for proposals, a bid was accepted from developer Veselko Buntic to use it as an events space
for a planned hotel in the adjacent Dowlin Block.
City Councilor Keith Bona, however, objected to the mayor's decision to award the bid below assessed without the council's input and called for a reconsideration
. A number of residents, and the state Rep. John Barrett III, also protested a sale that would abandon the concept of a performing arts theater.
The council, which seemed ready to approve, went at the last minute with a compromise designed
by Bona and Councilor Benjamin Lamb to amend the 2019 order require council approval for any sale and to put of a decision until January. This would give incoming Mayor Jennifer Macksey input; her inaugural speech leaned toward pursuing the performance venue.
In other public property actions, council rejected a plan to turn the former Sullivan School
into a housing development; plans for a new access and sidewalks
to make the area around Brayton School safe for walking will start next year; and the School Committee abandoned plans for a Greylock School project on advice from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to focus on renovating Brayton
to meet the needs of a declining school population.
The downtown saw a host of small store openings over the past year including Pops General Store on Marshall Street; the expansion of "substores" in Berkshire Emporium
, including Savvy Hive and the Crafters Connection
; the Bear and Bee Bookstore on Holden Street; the Plant Connector and revamped Secret Stash on Eagle Street; and the move of 413 Bistro from Williamstown to Main Street. Out in the West End, the city's first marijuana dispensary
, Clear Sky, opened as well as the Norad Toy & Candy Co.
, and on the south side, the opening of Bill's Sporting Goods
on State Street.
The big sale was the Holiday Inn, now Hotel Downstreet
, purchased as NA Hotel LLC for $4.45 million. The 90-room hotel is now owned by Peregrine Group, a property management company, and will be managed by Main Street Hospitality. There are plans to rejuvenate the 1974 structure over the next year.
People in the News
The late state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi's largess continues to benefit the city more than four years after her death. The final settlement of her will
left another $91,651 gift to the public library for a total of $266,651.56 and $109,276.86 for the future bike path for a total of $319,276.86.
John "Jack" and Joyce Brooks also left $40,000 toward the library, on top of the same amount to their alma mater Drury last year; and $1,885 was gifted to the high school's cinema and screenwriting course in memory of former Drury High School teacher Francis Merrigan.
But 2021 saw the passing of longtime North Adams chronicler Joe Manning
at age 79. Manning first discovered the Steeple City 25 years ago and became a frequent and beloved visitor. The author, historian, genealogist, freelance journalist, poet, photographer, and songwriter made the city his "spiritual home" even though he never lived here.
The city also lost William "Billy" Evans, a Capitol Police officer killed in the line of duty
at the age of 41. The Drury High graduate lay in honor in the Capitol Rotunda with services that included the president, and was escorted home by officers from numerous departments. His private service at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Adams was attended by state and federal officials.