Xtina Parks is moving her gallery Roam to Water Street. She opened it in 2018 on the Mass MoCA campus.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Artist and gallery owner Xtina Parks is excited about the future of her new neighborhood.
And she is just as excited about preserving its past.
"What is important to me is history and things that are important to New England," Parks said this week. "I'm originally from Springfield and have always loved architecture — historic buildings, buildings that are older.
"When we found out about this location and also that it has income potential with the existing income from apartments above and Gramercy Bistro, that got us excited."
And that led Parks, who opened Roam: A Xtina Parks Gallery on the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art campus in North Adams in 2018, to purchase 16 Water St. in neighboring Williamstown with plans to move the gallery one town over.
"It was actually a very spur of the moment situation," Parks said. "We absolutely love our location at Mass MoCA. That's been our home since we opened.
"We had been looking at other properties — my husband, myself, my colleagues at Roam. ... The intention was to look at commercial properties or farms. I always wanted to have some horses up here.
"Suddenly, we found out about that particular building."
James and Chrystina Parks, operating as 16 Water Street LLC, purchased the three-story brick building, adjacent restaurant and two-apartment carriage house for $2,625,000 from real estate developer Charles Fox on Feb. 1.
Parks and her colleagues spent the last week working alongside Fox to start prepping the space to operate Roam, which she hopes to have up and running again sometime this spring.
The building, known as the Cole Block, dates to the mid-19th century. Fox purchased it in 1996.
It is known by longtime residents as the home of Phillips General Store.
Charles Herbert "Herb" Phillips, who died in 2008, ran the store for 52 years. Like Parks, Phillips was a native of Springfield before finding a home on Water Street.
In recent years, the street-level retail space at 16 Water St. has been home to The Browns specialty clothing store and the Berkshire Fitness Company, which relocated south to 84 Water St.
Parks plans to use the same storefront both to retail African artwork sourced from Morocco to South Africa and for exhibition space for her own art.
The photographer and documentary filmmaker strives to center "the human wildlife conflict in Africa," she writes on her LinkedIn page.
It is the gallery's mission to share the story of the African continent and work with contemporary artists to bring their baskets, ceramics, jewelry, dolls and sculpture to American consumers.
Parks came to the Northern Berkshires from Southern California, where she still has a home with her husband. She said the move to Williamstown from North Adams will make life a little easier for the Roam staff; like Parks, many of them live in Williamstown.
"Some people are 60 seconds away [from 16 Water St.]," she said. "It takes 2 1/2 minutes to get here from my house."
That said, Parks said the 16 Water St. location will not represent a major change for Roam's clientele.
"In my mind, Williamstown and North Adams is one thing," she said. "To me, both are just home. I don't see us as being separate or in competition. I think we all need each other. I see the Berkshires as a whole as one place, but especially Williamstown and North Adams.
"I bank at Berkshire Bank in North Adams. I'm on the Foundation Board at MCLA. Trying to promote this area is important to me. We have so much to offer. It's so beautiful. We have nature in our back yard."
And now Parks has new history to explore in her basement.
Part of prepping for Roam's reopening has been recapturing historic elements of the property.
"[Fox] has been in the basement directing my staff, and everyone is working together," Parks said during a telephone interview on Monday. "He is very, very attached to the building. We're treating the building with the utmost respect.
"He's there right now with some of my staff sweeping out the basement. It's been a labor of love for the last five days."
Parks is planning alterations to the first-floor space and already has made one big change. She wants to remove some non-load bearing walls that break up the space and open up the original stairs that have been boarded up over the years.
One of the first things she and her team did was tear down an interior wall to expose some of the original brick on the north wall.
"We discovered three windows behind a fake wood wall," Parks said. "We pulled that off and are now exposing the brick underneath. ... I was hoping to find a time capsule, but not yet."
All three of the newly exposed windows have brick on the other side, but at least one could be "daylighted" to look into a hallway at the adjacent restaurant.
And those are not the only windows to be excited about.
"The transept windows on the front of the building were created by Frank Lloyd Wright," Parks said. "Those windows, I think, are one of the only patents he had on windows. They have a very unique design. They're like louvers in a glass block. When the light hits it, it cascades the light into the room like a variegated light up and down."
Water Street, also State Route 43, has had its ups and downs commercially over the years.
Parks is bullish on the neighborhood and indicated there are potential synergies with her tenant at Gramercy Bistro and nearby Provisions Williamstown.
"I'm really, really excited about our neighbors — Gramercy Bistro and Provisions, the wine and cheese shop," she said. "I feel like we've got a little bit of a cornerstone starting to set up at the top of Water Street.
"My goal is to try to make it a second Spring Street. We're really supportive of that street as well, but maybe we can try to have this parallel street, add on and support everyone in the local community.
"Peter [MacGillivray] from Provisions brought that up yesterday. He said, 'Why don't we do block parties or have live music or special days when we have sales on our street, etc.?' No one is going to do it for us. We have to do it for ourselves."
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Red Shirt Farm Expanding With Store/Commercial Kitchen Build
By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
Owner Jim Schultz presents the project from his living room at the farm
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Red Shirt Farm will debut a farm store and community commercial kitchen on Route 7 to offer local food choices and opportunities for learning.
The farm recently broke ground on the project and plans to have a soft opening in December.
On Friday, state and local officials gathered at the 10-acre farm for a site visit organized by 1Berkshire.
Owner Jim Schultz detailed Red Shirt's organic, regenerative farming practices, low carbon footprint operations, and dedication to food access that led to building a store.
"Our mission is very much values-driven," he explained. "It's about growing good food, growing it well, and distributing it to our neighbors and our community."
Alfred Weissman Real Estate of Westchester County has entered an agreement with Southwestern Vermont Health Care to purchase the 371-acre campus the Bennington hospital acquired in December 2020.
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