GREAT BARRINGTON — Unlike a lot of other coffee sessions with public officials, there were no free beverages. There was, however, plenty of news at a “virtual coffee” session Wednesday morning with Town Manager Mark Pruhenski. And, like all news, it came free of charge.
The featured speaker was Town Planner and Assistant Town Manager Chris Rembold, who waxed poetic about a recent grant the town received to measure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the downtown business community.
“Part of this program is to investigate ways that we can address those impacts and maybe lay a framework, a groundwork, a foundation for moving forward, to be stronger and to be more resilient,” Rembold told the 20 or so people on the Zoom session.
Like others in the state and across the country, many members of Great Barrington’s business community have been hit hard by the disruption caused by the virus. Restaurants, movie theaters, and most downtown retailers have been forced to close for periods of time or dramatically scale back operations over the last 13 months. Others, such as retailers selling food and groceries, alcohol, and hardware have fared remarkably well.
The Local Rapid Recovery Planning Program, an initiative of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, “provides technical assistance by consultant teams with expertise in effective strategies to stabilize business districts,” the program says on its website.
Though there is a total of $9.5 million in technical assistance available to all 351 cities and towns in the state, there is currently no direct funding available through this program. Applicants will be matched with a consultant team, though Rembold said there is some expectation that there will be funds available down the road for implementation.
Rembold explained that the grant and data gathering is “a really important first step,” and that the town is surveying downtown business owners or their managers. The survey will be distributed through the Downtown Great Barrington Cultural District or the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce through social media or email blasts. Rembold appealed for help in gathering contact information for all the stakeholders.
Rembold said that the town’s now-defunct Economic Development Committee had recommended the survey. “It’s something that we’ve wanted to do for years — to survey the downtown community and understand who’s here, understand the types of businesses that are here, and how different types of businesses and…