By Scott Merzbach
AMHERST — While restaurants remain strong and more dining options could be successful, there are challenges to bringing more retail establishments to Amherst, according to a draft report and analysis provided to town officials.
The information, from research done by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and Elan Planning of Saratoga Springs, New York, presented at a forum last month, will be the basis for a follow-up meeting Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in the Town Room at Town Hall, where residents and business owners are invited to discuss the Amherst’s economic strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats facing the town.
Economic Development Director Geoff Kravitz said the forum will include a general overview of Amherst’s economy, how tourism and entertainment are faring, and business and entrepreneurship trends.
“The idea is to have some professional outside perspective,” Kravitz said.
The reports are being coupled with a survey, accessible through the town website, that will guide Kravitz in creating an economic development plan for dealing with a changing economy.
“The next phase will be to develop economic development strategies based on that,” Kravitz said.
A grant of up to $25,000 from the Community Compact, which the town signed with the Baker administration last year, is paying for the work.
At the initial forum, Lori Tanner, PVPC’s senior economic development policy analyst, explained the current conditions for Amherst.
“It’s still a dining destination, it already is a dining destination, and there is potential for additional dining and drinking,” Tanner said.
But there is not enough residential development in Amherst to support significant new retail enterprises, though it’s possible that the town could add another clothing store or health and beauty store, according to Tanner’s report.
Kravitz said it has been particularly important to get information about retail enterprises because, since he started in the newly created position in January 2016, he has heard that people want more stores to shop at. The reports show there are barriers to having more retail.
“There’s not a whole lot we could support with the existing or future populations,” Kravitz said
Tanner’s concern is that 57 percent of household spending by residents is already done outside Amherst, what she calls “retail leakage.” This means many of the shopping destinations are the big box stores in Hadley.
Kravitz noted that the studies looked at where Amherst residents spend dollars within a 15-minute drive, with much of that at stores in Hadley. For 20-minute drives, residents head to Northampton to shop and dine, while a 33-minute drive gets them to Greenfield.