Outlook 2017

 In Blog

Every year, I write a handful of stories for the Springfield Republican newspaper’s Outlook section, which focuses on business and commerce in the Pioneer Valley. This year was no different.

In the fall, I lined up interviews with four leaders in business: Dawn Creighton of the nonprofit Dress For Success; John Grossman of Holyoke Hummus; Michael Sundel and his wife, Lystra Blake, of Mill 180 Park in Easthampton; and Bruce Volz and Tony Clarke of VCA Inc./Alloy in Northampton.

I always enjoy meeting these key business owners, who are always grateful for the coverage. They are hard-working and inspiring, and I enjoy telling their stories on the pages of the newspaper. This year’s Outlook section came out in mid-February. Some of the stories are not online yet on MassLive.com, so I offer these excerpts from each article so you can begin to get to know Dawn, John, Michael, Lystra, Bruce and Tony.

Dress For Success

Dawn Creighton isn’t just inspired to lead Dress For Success because it suits up women in need so they can find jobs and security. Creighton is impressed that the nonprofit transforms the lives of everyone involved—from the job candidates up through the 15 board members. She sees the proof all the time.

Before the organization’s most recent pop-up tag sale, for instance, Creighton pushed—hard—on an employee from a local business to encourage her to volunteer to stock shelves at the event, while women shopped. The woman resisted but eventually gave in, and as the volunteer connected with shoppers she broke down and cried with the realization that she was helping to better the lives of under-served and at-risk women.

Dress For Success is about breaking the cycle of poverty for women by providing them with professional clothes in which to get an interview as well as skills training and education that even touches on good personal care and health.

Learn more about Dress For Success.

Holyoke Hummus

The Great Garbanzo food truck owned by John Grossman and Dawn Cordeiro of Holyoke Hummus Company is last in a long line of vendors behind Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton. It’s a Food Truck Friday night with live music and beer on tap, and Grossman—in his colorful middle-eastern cap—tends to a steady stream of customers like Alex and Jenna Barron of Easthampton. He prepares the well-known hummus-based sandwiches—some complete with stuffed grape leaves and pickled turnip—and his colleague Nate Wytrwal keeps the fried falafel coming.

Space inside the truck is tight, but Grossman and Wytrwal maneuver in the easy manner of people who have spent six months working together. Since the 1988 Chevy step van—with its elaborate, circus-themed paint job by artist Amy Johnquest of Spot 22 in Easthampton—went on the road in May 2016, they’ve been to fairs, festivals, farmer’s markets and events from Celebrate Holyoke to the Deerfield Craft Fair.

For Grossman, the food truck is a second job, a labor of love. Days, he works at EcoBuilding Bargains in Springfield, seeking out materials to be donated to the store. Cordeiro is an at-home mom with their son Lawrence, 2. They spend their weekends parked at various events, and they’ve developed a loyal following. They also recently opened a brick-and-mortar shop in downtown Holyoke.

Learn more about Holyoke Hummus.

Mill 180 Park

It’s mid-December 2016, and the outside temperature hovers in the 30s, yet there are dozens of people in the park; some play in the grass in their stocking feet. This is possible because Mill 180 Park is indoors.

Turf serves as flooring in this warm and impressive 14,000-foot indoor space in a transformed mill building in Easthampton, where nearly 50 adults and children are at play on this chilly Sunday. There are three children’s birthday parties going on. There are a few millennials drinking beer at the bar and playing games like corn hole and hackey sack. Some visitors sip green tea and stare out the window at Mt. Tom or study the various plants growing hydroponically.

This is the scene that owners Michael Sundel and his wife, Lystra Blake, envisioned when they first imagined an urban indoor park that would incorporate technology and philanthropy. There are no fees here, whether you come to do homework or take a painting or yoga class. You will be asked not to tip, and you can buy a beer and a hearty snack for under $10. As a bonus, your vegetarian chili will likely have ingredients grown in the park under lights, but without soil.

It took almost two years for Sundel and Blake’s corporation, Community Food Engine LLC, to prepare the mill building space for the park to open on Sept. 7, 2016, at a cost of roughly $2.6 million.  The park continues to grow in popularity, and this is a good sign for the couple, as they intend to take the idea to other cities for the community benefit of warmth, relaxation and rejuvenation at no cost to the visitor. They hope to make the enterprise financially rewarding by piloting software here that can be sold to other large businesses and organizations to manage tasks and procedures in an efficient, cost-effective way.

Learn more about Mill 180 Park.

VCA Inc./Alloy

The products produced by VCA, Inc./Alloy, LLC, on Earle Street in Northampton are like valuable secrets. From this $2 million shop nestled behind Smith College comes fine furniture and architectural millwork for such a high-end clientele that co-owners Bruce Volz and Tony Clarke agree not to reveal it via photography in their marketing materials. Sometimes, only with express permission from the end consumer, their work might appear on the pages of glossy magazines.

VCA’s pieces range from custom-built kitchen and bathroom cabinetry to such extravagances as 10-foot-tall dressing room shelving lined with ultra-suede, or a hand-carved fireplace mantel. The materials in use in this 20,000-square-foot industrial shop—divided with millwork projects on one side and furniture on another—are top shelf. The techniques, innovative and exclusive. It’s all part of a compelling reputation and a “relentless pursuit of perfection” that Volz and Clarke speak to on their Facebook page.

Learn more about VCA.

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