What’s Up in Florence?
Well, Just Take a Gander
By Edward Shanahan
Since we arrived in Northampton in 1971 and settled in Florence, one of the givens has been the fixed nature of Florence.
It rarely changed and when it did you hardly noticed it. That was comforting to some, a source of pride for some, and frustrating to others. But basically you took Florence at face value.
These days that face is changing and while some of these changes have been percolating for some time, the pace of activity is beyond brisk.
Take a look around.
Scaffoldings ring the Go West building on the corner of North Main and North Maple, as the Valley Community Development Corp.’s multi-million dollar renovation project for new single- room housing continues. As an SRO, the building had come on hard times, especially after the departure of West Clothing.
Further up North Maple, tradespeople are buzzing around and in and out of the Norwood Engineering/Ross Bros. brick factory building that Robert Lawton (owner of the Pleasant Street theater) is converting into artists’ spaces, offices and possibly retail enterprises. The newly painted and repaired exterior is looking very spiffy.
Along Main Street, more scaffolding has climbed the front of the former Everybody’s Market building as work picks up in earnest for the conversion of that mammoth and long-forlorn structure into four three-story residential condominiums. While the ground level space has always supported retail business, the ocean of square footage in the upper reaches of that building has been empty for more than half a century. Now an out- of-town developer sees great potential – and if his pockets are deep enough this conversion could surely trigger changed perceptions about Florence.
The most impressive and extensive alteration of the Florence urban scene has been the good-looking, two-structure brick bank complex that has replaced and obliterated our memory of the existing gas station. With three filling stations remaining, Florence has that service sector pretty well covered.
The Northampton Cooperative Bank has to be credited not only for taking the plunge in Florence to give the monolithic Florence Savings Bank a little competition after all these eons, but for making its entrance – and the gateway to Florence – classy, rather than cheesy. The village-like sitting area with benches and a clock tower – a clock that displays the correct time – are more than inviting. Soon, the adjacent vacant structure will become the new home of Goggins Real Estate, now located on King Street, we understand.
I, for one, plan to open an account in the bank as a vote of appreciation for the pleasing presence it has created, a permanent enhancement to the village, for sure.
Sadly, not too far away, another change is less welcome with the closing of Jack Singh’s video store, which he operated for more than a dozen years. We knew his building as the former home of Meisse’s TV shop, but Jack became a neighborhood favorite, friendly and accessible, in ways that Blockbuster Video is not. The other day in the final days of the going-out- of- business sale, many patrons were stopping by to say farewell and wish Jack good luck. It’s independent merchants like Jack who make Florence, well, Florence.
But the march of improvement continues at the other end of the downtown with the Florence Civic Center plans to build an addition to support various outdoor activities, such as the recent restoration of ice skating in the winter, as well as band concerts, community barbeques and other gatherings.
Finally, it has been a long time coming and the setbacks have been considerable, but Lilly Library is now embarked on its $2 million- plus expansion and renovation project. Books have been moved to the Annunciation Church school building, and the actual work of bringing the Lilly Library in the modern era is jabout to start. No longer will patrons face the formidable trek up those steep front steps, and new interior space will transform the local library experience.
A year from now, the look and feel of Florence is likely to be very different, or maybe these physical changes will change Florence not at all, at least in spirit.
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