Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Monday, September 24, 2012

Prove Me Wrong

As of this morning there have been 23 comments on my last post.  The subject of thinking differently here in town in order to move forward struck a chord with a lot of people.  Changing our way of thinking about just who we are, what is needed, and how to get it done in our live times here in town seems to be something many of us are on the same page about.

One comment mentioned flags and banners on the utility poles around town.  The ones we have are an excellent example of community pride, but most have come down, and need to be replaced with more.  Better yet, a different one.  Some places change them whenever there is something major happening in town, perhaps ours could change them twice a year.  Originally, the town made a deal with Verizon, whose poles they are, that the banners would only stay up for a short time, but they've been left up a lot longer than originally agreed upon. A new agreement, and new banners would be a good thing.

Traffic lights.  Yes, the town can have traffic lights put where they are needed.  It's all a matter of funding. Watch how fast they go up in other towns when a new plaza is built and the builders pay for the traffic lights at their entrances.  Their money speeds the hands of time, our money slows it hoping for some money to fall from the coffers in Boston.  Bottom line, yes, lights can go in, but there is a process, which also takes money.  If they are needed, and they are, it is one more thing for a true grass roots organization to put on their list to fight for.

Can we make this town more attractive, and look like Holden, or Shrewsbury?  Of course.  An official committee with volunteers, the right to appropriate money, and to spend money, and a set plan will do wonders.  However, that would probably be only the "frosting on the cake", it is the cake that needs the work.  Bury the utility lines, install nice street lighting, new sidewalks, and other positive changes to our crumbling infrastructure is needed first. Holden and Shrewsbury renewed first, decorated later.  Again, get those strong, outspoken people in town that need a cause, and get them involved in a grassroots committee to invoke changes that aren't being handled fast enough at town hall.

Sewer service on Rout 15. I wrote how this was needed years ago.  The town wants to attract business to Route 15, but not offer water or sewer service.  No wonder the area has seen nothing happen.  Put in sewer, and water, market the area, and watch what happens.  A Wrentham Outlet type business?  Why not?  Take advantage of our location and those two interstates in town.  Other towns would give anything to be in our position.

We can not expect Old Sturbridge Village to be the sole reason why people come to town.  Give them more, and they will have lunch at the Public House, dinner at the Cedar Street Grill, and then tour the Village.

Who will pay for the sewer?  Those choosing to connect to the sewer will pay the lions share like it has always been done in town.

I do have to agree a bit more with some of the comments regarding Sturbridge having no high end stores, and there is a need.   We are not high end in Sturbridge. There are only pieces of that in town. At one time, those in Sturbridge may have thought of themselves as being upper income, and high end, but that was many years ago, but not today.  The town is not as attractive to the person driving through as is Shrewbury.  The infrastructure has been allowed to go into disrepair, and obvious safety issues such as the intersection of New Boston Road and Route 20 are ignored.  These are all things seen by visitors.  No, we are far from being a Lincoln, Weston, Dover, Newburyport, or even Holden, or Shrewsbury.

Bass Shoes, Van Heusen, both big names, left.  The Gap left.  Old Navy did as well, but not by choice, the lease was the issue this time.  Bath and Body Works, all gone, and many others over the years.  There was a time when we did attract "the big names", even in the 1990's, but not so much today.  Even the new gas station on Route 131 is a "no-name" business.  At this rate we will become Genericville,and dollar stores will begin to spring up.

Now, not only do we need to change our thinking, but we need to change our actions, and not rely on what those in the town hall want to do, but rather what we want them to do for us.  One voice won't cut it, unless it is a loud voice.  Loud enough to speak over the regular bluster, and falderall we witness on cable TV.  Many voices would make a better impact. 

We need to take back control of our town, or stop whining about it.

Let's see what happens.  I am hoping for the best, but inside I know we'll be talking the same talk next year at this time.

Prove me wrong.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We Must Rethink Who We Are, And Who We Want To Be

What you are about to read may not sit right with some.  In fact, it will infuriate many.  Let me say first, I am sorry for the emotions it will cause, not for the act in provoking them.

It has to be done.

Here goes.

We are not a "tourist town".

There, I've said it.  We are a town that has a tourist venue within it, Old Sturbridge Village.  Little within the town is designed to attract, support, maintain, or designate the town, or part of it, as a tourist destination.  Yes, we have well designed, and well constructed trails, but no professionally designed brochures, or booklets with simple to read maps.  We have trail heads with limited parking, and some signage, "Trek Sturbridge".  I haven't seen any actual marketing of our outdoors beyond what is written in the local newspapers.

In the 1940's when the Wells family built Old Sturbridge Village there was hope that the public would like it, and come back again.  They did.  That business spawned the need for places that those visitors could stay, and small motels, and motor courts sprung up.  

Over the years, motels, and restaurants were opened primarily to capture the crowds coming to Sturbridge to visit OSV.  Our town was quaint, with its pretty common and the period homes and businesses surrounding it, and the Publick House began to do  better than it had been doing once the "Village" began drawing crowds.

When the Mass Turnpike came to town in the late 1950's, Sturbridge was awarded it's own exit.  This act alone allowed for folks to hop on the pike and drive to Sturbridge to see Old Sturbridge Village without the normal stop and go driving along the back roads, and Route 20.  Without Exit 9 Sturbridge would have remained the rural New England town it always had been, and OSV may not have done as well as it has. 

Back then it was get on the pike, and head to exit 9, and get off.  Very simple, and the pike drew thousands, and thousands.  People actually made a day of packing up the car and heading out to explore the Turnpike.  They'd have lunch at Howard Johnson's at one of the many rest areas, fill up their tanks, and maybe follow a sign to Old Sturbridge Village to see what it was all about.  The crowds came to Sturbridge not because Sturbridge had a lot to offer, it was because of Old Sturbridge Village, and we had an exit.

Ever since we have referred to ourselves as a tourist town, and in a very real way we are, but not in the way one would think a tourist town would be.  When I-84 came to town along the old bones of Route 15 from Connecticut it shuttled a new breed of traveler to town: the transient.  People with a destination either north, or south of Sturbridge, but since we were at the the junction of two interstates, the east-west I-90, the Pike, and the north-south I-84, we were a great place to rest, eat, and maybe explore the sights.  Old Sturbridge Village was on the list of things to see, and shopping was second on the list.  If the travelers still had a ways to go, then one of our many motels rooms were available.

For years, and years, this was life in Sturbridge.  Stores opened, and thrived, or closed. Restaurants, opened and closed.  The successful deverloped a local, and long distance following, and became a destination themselves much like OSV.

Old Sturbidge Village did have its ups and downs as well, but over the past several years has rethought itself, and has down amazingly well.  They rethought themselves, and that act has renewed The Village.   It is way overdue for Sturbridge to rethink itself, or if they are in the midst of a ponder, then speed it up a bit and start to show results.

I've been to tourist towns, and so have you.  Newburyport, Hyannis, Ogunquit, Stockbridge, North Conway, Lenox and Mystic to name a few, and we cannot compare to any of them.  They all capitalize on their history, or a venue, within their town that attracts people.  That venue may be skiing, shopping, the ocean, fine restaurants, or entertainment.  Those towns adapted their existing infrastructure to serve tourism, build anew, and have maintained it all to insure the tourists don't go away.  Nothing will cause a tourist to rethink a future visit if the town starts to let itself go, or not address a tourists needs.  

Accommodating the tourist goes beyond offering a clean bed at the end of the day.

First thing we as a town need to do is to look around us and ask what infrastructure has been put in place, over the years,  to support a tourist population.

The largest convention center  in central, and western Massachusetts is here in Sturbridge at the Host Hotel.  Thousands come to the Host each year for any one of their many conventions, or shows.  Classic cars, antiques, political, fraternal, health and fitness events  attract thousands to these all weekend events.  I have watched those visitors playing Russian Roulette with the traffic on Route 20 as they try to cross the road in order to explore the rest of Main Street.  There are no cross walks, or pedestrian controlled traffic lights to be found within a short walk.  This simple omission speaks volumes about where our heads when it comes to accommodating our visitors.

There are no side walks along Route 20 from New Boston Road to the Host only a well worn dirt path.  A dirt path along a major route that has been used for generations of tourists, and residents, walking from the old motel on the corner of Route 20, and New Boston Road.  I wonder with the construction of the new Holiday Inn Express at that location will the state/town build a sidewalk.  It would have nice to include it in the plan offered to the town along with a traffic light.  Who knows, maybe the new owners have worked out something with the town, or maybe the town will refine the zoning in the area to force the necessary modern improvements.

The Welcome to Sturbridge sign, also at the same location, is in poor repair, and overgrown with trees.   Maybe it was maintained by the motel, maybe it's the towns, but it doesn't really matter, it is that old sign that visitors  see when they get off the highway at the gateway to our town.

Someone needs to take charge.

Sidewalks along Rout 20 are impassable to those with wide strollers or electric carts, wheelchairs, the number of crosswalks for a tourist town are few. 

These are a few of the things that prevent us from being a true tourist town, and I've mentioned them many times before.  There is so much room for improvement.

I could ramble on here for a dozen or so paragraphs, but it would do little to truly illustrate what is needed.  I've taken you on the is ride before.   The one way for you to understand is to visit a tourist town this fall, and look around you at how the host town accommodates its visitors.  Of course,  in most places the tourist season closed down on Labor Day weekend, but the signage, public bathrooms, crosswalks, traffic lights, sidewalks, and street lighting are still there.

Rethinking who we are, what we want to be, and how to get there is so needed.  Brick sidewalks are nice, and that simple, if not controversial act, inspired the recent landscape makeover at the Public House.  The entire area is beautiful.   Imagine if something just as simple was to happen along Route 20 in Fiskdale.  Who else would be inspired?

One simple act.  We need more of those.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What's Playing At The Movies?

Submitted by Barbara Search:

Sturbridge finally has a Movie Theater. But, how do we know what is playing? If you have a computer you can Google "Cinamagic" and find out or you can page through newspapers and you might find a listing of movies currently showing at various movie houses including Cinamagic. You won't find out what is playing by driving by Hobb's Brook on Rt. 20, nor will you find out by going into Hobb's Brook and driving by Cinamagic, because there are no signs anywhere to indicate what is playing at the movies.

When Cinamagic first opened I asked a Town employee, who should know, why there were no signs and I was told the owners of Cinamagic didn't want a sign. Recently, I asked a Town official the same question and was told the Town wouldn't allow a sign.

My point is Cinamagic needs a sign if they want to stay in business. I was there twice during the week and found six and two other people at the movie I attended, respectively. And, there was no one in the lobby either of those times. Fortunately, for Cinamagic, business was better on the Friday night I attended.

Whoever is responsible for the lack of a sign needs to rethink the decision if they want to see Cinamagic succeed. I know I certainly do.

 Great Article, Barbara!   You raise some great questions.   Anyone have a clue?--ed.