Off The Menu: Why Northampton is struggling

May 9 2016

Northampton seems to have lost its mojo.

Over the past month or so, there’s been a fair amount of public speculation about what’s going on in downtown Northampton.

Why so many empty storefronts? Northampton businesses say there’s no simple answer to vacancy woes

A municipality that’s long promoted itself as one of Western New England’s top retail and dining destinations, Northampton has of late collectively taken note of empty downtown storefronts and speculated as to what might be keeping them dark.

Some members of the business community have voiced concerns about downtown rents and other costs of doing business, while others have dismissed the current vacancies as a predictable manifestation of the business cycle.

I’d suggest that both viewpoints are somewhat simplistic. There may be forces at work that are, indeed, eroding Northampton’s destination status.

The first of these is traffic congestion. A recent early evening errand in Northampton reminded me just how difficult it can be to get there. Anyone familiar with Central Hampshire County knows that annoying westbound tie-ups on the Coolidge Bridge have become near nightly occurrences, and congestion on the Route 5 southern approach to downtown has also grown substantially over the past few years. Factor in a soon-to-begin “roundabout” project at Conz Street, and vehicular access to “Noho” will grow even more challenging.

Downtown Northampton business report: Foot traffic flat, 14 vacant storefronts

The second factor is more a matter of style. At least as far as restaurant experiences are concerned, Northampton seems to have lost its mojo. While there might still be a number of solidly reliable dining destinations in the Meadow City, I’d be at a loss to suggest any recently opened downtown eatery that’s worth a drive north from Longmeadow.

Admittedly this dearth of interesting new restaurants is, in part, a reflection of a broader national trend — the census of independently owned eateries has been in decline coast-to-coast since the start of the decade. There are, however, also local factors at play, one of which is the six-figure cost of a liquor license in Northampton, a financial reality that’s a substantial barrier to new restaurant entrepreneurship.
Hugh Robert is a faculty member in Holyoke Community College’s hospitality and culinary arts program and has over 40 years of restaurant and educational experience. Please send items of interest to Off the Menu at the Republican, P.O. Box 1329, Springfield, MA 01101; Robert can also be reached at



Apr 2023