We are all going through an unprecedented time in our history, not only here in the Berkshires, but all over the world. We have been challenged by a pandemic that we have not seen before. For the past two and a half months, we have seen our normal daily lives severely altered, with businesses forced to close their doors, a record number of people losing their jobs, schools shut down, and all of us told to stay at home in order to stay safe and healthy.
Schools, businesses, museums and theaters have all been shuttered, but last week’s announcement that Tanglewood would not have a 2020 summer season seemed to take all the wind out of our sails for a local resurgence of the Berkshire economy.
Tanglewood has been the economic driver of the Berkshires for decades, generating well over $130 million into the local economy annually. I remember, as a child growing up here, hearing the stories of the booming paper mills, Sprague Electric in North Adams and General Electric in Pittsfield employing tens of thousands of our friends, neighbors and family members, and oh, by the way, there was place called Tanglewood.
When the larger companies started to scale back and ultimately shut down, the Berkshires were already making wise investments in the creative economy, travel and tourism, and hospitality with Tanglewood as our anchor.
With this news, perhaps some have lost hope for a fast Berkshire recovery. For me, though, I remain very optimistic and bullish on the Berkshires. Things will not be the same until a vaccine is developed to stop this virus, which may take a while, but with every challenge, I believe that there are new opportunities; opportunities for how we can all survive and thrive; and opportunity for our businesses to review and update what we are selling, how we deliver our goods and who we are selling them too.
Our travel and tourism economy will drastically fall away, but keep in mind that there are still over 127,000 full-time residents living here who all could potentially be our customers eager to #BeBerkshire: eager to eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores, go to our events, hike our trails, visit our farms, gaze at our mountains. So let’s cater to them: our neighbors. Let’s have specials to draw in locals; let’s expand “local frequent flyer” rewards programs; let’s open our doors and roll out the red carpet to our Berkshire residents; let’s build our main streets and backroads back together.
Our Berkshire families have great pride in our community: They are caring and compassionate and they want to make life better for the next generation. They are people who proudly call the Berkshires home.
The Berkshires have seen a lot of changes — lost population, factories shutdown, changing economies, etc. — but if we all seize this new opportunity to focus on each other, we all will survive and come out better on the other end. #BeBerkshire is about working together, helping our neighbors, volunteering at local nonprofits and building our economy back together.
I want to give a special thanks to our Berkshire heroes: Our health care system here in the Berkshires has been put to the test and has passed with flying colors due to the dedicated frontline of nurses, doctors and all hospital workers: true health care professionals. Our communities’ first responders continually put themselves in harm’s way to protect us and provide a great sense of security when we need it the most. What can I say about our committed grocery store and essential workers serving us and keeping the shelves well-stocked so that we can properly care for our families? Our teachers and parents have quickly responded in innovative and caring ways to continue educating our children. Our citizens step up and step out to lend a hand cooking food, making masks, delivering necessities and giving a kind smile to our kids, families and seniors in need. “Thank you” just doesn’t seem to be enough, but I am so very appreciative of their service.
The Berkshires are a special place, not just because of our natural beauty or our cultural gems, but because of the people who live here and the community that we have built together. Let’s all get creative. Let’s all be safe and healthy. Let’s all work together. Let’s send a message to the world that we are ready. Let’s all #BeBerkshire.