Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM The roar of numerous customers and thumping pop music inside Steve & Barry's has galvanized the once empty Food Mart Plaza.
At its grand opening ceremony on April 25, Steve & Barry's clothing store ended a decade-long search to fill the retail space vacated by Food Mart. Only weeks ago the Agawam Towne Square parking lot was packed with just a few vehicles visiting the adjacent Bank of America; however, last week the lot was filled with several dozen cars filled with Steve & Barry's shoppers.
"Business has been great," Chris Midura, the location's store director, said. The Towne Square location officially opened its doors on April 23, two days prior to the grand opening ceremony. The location has provided 50 new jobs, Midura noted.
"Agawam has a scarcity of retail opportunities and Steve & Barry's will be an anchor [for the plaza's additional development] and will satisfy the [clothing] needs of those in town," Deborah Dachos, director of Planning and Community Development, said. "Mercel [Sander, owner of the former Food Mart Plaza] did an excellent job of bringing new life into this shopping center."
Sander said he is currently speaking with other businesses seeking to fill the remaining 40 percent of the plaza's retail space. He added, however, that no decisions have been finalized as of yet.
Sander explained that he and Dave Ratner, owner of Dave's Soda and Pet City, have been working together to enhance the visual appeal of the entire plaza. Last year, Ratner purchased the adjacent Ames building and will open a new Dave's Soda and Pet City there. Sander said the two have worked to landscape, clean and re-pave the parking lot as well as create matching facades in order to create a continuous space.
"This is fabulous," Town Councilor Cecilia Calabrese, said at the grand opening. "It [the transformation] really elevates the profile of the town. It was definitely worth waiting for."
She added that the town has a "prime opportunity to become more proactive" in seeking out new business and retail opportunities.
Calabrese and Dachos explained that several factors played parts in obtaining Steve & Barry's such as the location's designation as an Exceptional Opportunity Area by the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, and the Town Council's agreement to offer tax increment financing.
"It helps to send the message that we are business friendly," Calabrese said.
Mayor Susan Dawson said she is fully committed to economic development throughout Agawam and will be working to provide additional opportunities for new businesses in the future.
The Towne Square location marks the seventh Steve & Barry's store in Massachusetts, Midura said. He added that Steve & Barry's is looking forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the town of Agawam.