Our Opinion: Show Berkshire businesses the support they need – Berkshire Eagle

Peter Chapin is the new owner of the Mill River General Store in New Marlborough. Most days, he is out farming and the store is staffed by hired help. Under Chapin’s stewardship, the general store increasingly will reassert Mill River’s connection to the land, both locally and regionally, and the vegetables, meats, dairy and other goods produced upon it.

Peter Chapin is the new owner of the Mill River General Store in New Marlborough. Most days, he is out farming and the store is staffed by hired help. Under Chapin’s stewardship, the general store increasingly will reassert Mill River’s connection to the land, both locally and regionally, and the vegetables, meats, dairy and other goods produced upon it.
Shopping locally usually will cost more than at the big-box stores. As we seek a way out from under COVID’s dark clouds, though, a silver lining we should bring with us is a renewed valuing of the small businesses that bring vitality to our communities.

They outgrew their tiny farm stand, and so farmers Peter Chapin and his mother, Jan Johnson, upgraded. They bought the historic Mill River General Store.

Peter Chapin certainly hopes that’s the case. The New Marlborough farmer along with his mother recently bought the Mill River General Store. It’s a picturesque establishment evoking small-town culture and history of a uniquely New England variety. It also comes with a business model more difficult to manage than it was a few decades ago, much less when the store first opened nearly two centuries ago. No matter the quaintness or quality, it’s tough for a village store to compete with the modern scale of retail mega-complexes, chain supermarkets and the ubiquity of Amazon.
The Mill River General Store’s new proprietor is optimistic, however, and not just because he foresees efficiency in cutting out the middleman a bit by reaping a chunk of his inventory from what he sows on his farm. He also believes the pandemic shifted how many people shop in a way that could play in the store’s favor.
“There seems to be a lot of support, not just in this area, but all over the place, in terms of people learning to go directly to farmers,” he told The Eagle.
Mr. Chapin is banking on that buy-local momentum continuing, and we hope he’s correct. COVID-19 rocked the small businesses that dot our main streets. They run on the grit and ambition of their proprietors — some family-owned and -operated, some surviving month to month — therefore lacking the relative stability with which many larger corporate entities could weather the COVID storm.

COVID-19 has ravaged our restaurant and hospitality industry. Nearly one in five restaurants have closed in Massachusetts since the pandemic started, according to data released by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association last fall. In the Berkshires, as the winter and the pandemic drag on, restaurants struggle week-to-week to stay open with “For Sale” signs popping up all over the county.

Not all of them survived; some sectors were hit disproportionately hard. If these small businesses might have been taken for granted before, let a lesson of this pandemic be that they need and deserve our support. They make up the backbone of our local economies, weaving into the social fabric of their communities while serving them in a way that no big-box store could. That’s true for general stores and farm stands as well as restaurants and storefronts, from villages like Mill River to cities like North Adams and everywhere in between.
Yes, it is often cheaper to patronize bigger companies with roots outside the Berkshires, but Target and WalMart aren’t going anywhere. The future is not so guaranteed for small businesses, many of which unfortunately we lost since last year. For many, the times have been tough economically and made worse by COVID-19, but many others have the means to spend a little extra to support local businesses whose presence makes all of our lives richer in nonmonetary ways.
It shows your neighbors hustling to live their dream that you care whether they disappear in the face of COVID and big competition.
It helps preserve a unique contribution to your community’s character while becoming more familiar with where and how the products you consume are produced.
It keeps money in our communities so it can be reinvested here instead of filtered out to private equity groups and wealthy investors elsewhere. Locally owned small businesses are the ones sponsoring Little League teams and fundraising for local causes and neighbors in need.
We encourage Berkshirites to validate the Mill River General Store owners’ hopefulness for renewed support of the county’s homegrown businesses. We wish them all luck as we approach a holiday season that will be critical for the future prospects of these local gems.
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