Mar 11, 2014 Updated: 3:46 AM
By WGBHArts | Friday, August 10, 2012
By Jared Bowen | Friday, November 18, 2011
Nov. 17, 2011
UPTON — Just off Route 495 and bordering Hopkinton where the Boston Marathon starts, Upton has historically been a bedroom community. But it’s waking up as it finds itself in the midst of a record population boom.
Upton is a sleepy town crossed by leafy avenues and dotted with quiet waters. It’s a quintessential New England community where the town common is flanked by the Protestant and Catholic churches, although the latter is now for sale. It’s a place of historic 18th-century homes and grand new ones.
I know it well. It’s the place where I was raised and where people like 66-year-old Nancy LeClaire never found reason to leave.
WGBH News: Where We Live
When LeClaire was growing up in Upton, the place was “out in the sticks. Kind of a just little town,” she said. “We had a farm on each end of town. They delivered your milk in your milk box on the front porch.”
One of those farms remains, a vestige of a simpler time.
It is rather Mayberryish. I spent my childhood riding through Upton’s abundant forest land, climbing the ranks of the Cub Scouts and marching in town parades.
An old-timer reflects on her business success
LeClaire has put that small-town sensibility to work. She is the proprietor of two of Upton’s signature small businesses. One, Fin and Feather Sports, has been open since 1969.
“We ordered some worms from a catalog and started selling worms and nightcrawlers, and then we started selling shiners out of a bathtub. And that’s how the store started,” she said.
The other is a liquor store that she opened with her late husband 20 years ago.
She said, “We named it Liquor Plus and Bud always said the Plus was us!”
The store’s been able to survive even in the down economy. LeClaire chalked it up to the community feeling and service.
”I think it’s the personal contact you have with a person when you come into a store like that, a family-run store. I asked someone the other night how their daughter was, she was in a bad automobile accident. She said, 'Well, thank you for asking.' It meant something to her just for me to ask that question.”
The town's appeal to newcomers
That sensibility endeared the town to Rebecca and Mike Cotter, who moved here with their two daughters two years ago.
“Coming to Upton as a young mom, I was actually really surprised by just the different community activities. And it was very welcoming to us,” said Rebecca Cotter, who is now expecting another child.
Her husband agreed: “We love being here. I feel like we’re living the American Dream.”
Of all the cities and towns in Massachusetts, Upton had the largest percentage of population growth over the last decade. It grew because its soil has always been and still is fertile enough for the American Dream.
“I think for most people it’s having a comfortable home. Having it the way that you want it. Having access to all the conveniences,” Rebecca Cotter described. “We appreciate just the simple things and we love history. So this to us is definitely the American Dream.”
According to the last Census figures, since 2000 Upton has ballooned by roughly 1900 people. Most of them — 91 percent — own their own home. The median family income is well into the six figures.
A difference in priorities between generations
The region thrives enough that a long-dormant railway has been revived. Most farms and open space have given way to large developments, and new construction continues. The Cotters, however, favored a historic home next to the sprawling Sweet William Farm — a place the couple desperately wanted the town to buy and save.
“It’s a piece of history. It’s a rare piece of agricultural New England history nowadays. There’s not many pastures like that left,” Michael Cotter said.
Only half of Upton shared that opinion. Put to a vote this year, the potential purchase of the farm became divisive. The younger, newer population wanted it. Longtime residents didn’t.
LeClaire said, “Most of the older people, of course, didn’t want to spend town money on something like that because they’d been through it before. We bought three other parcels. And I think they felt enough is enough.”
“There was definitely friction,” Michael Cotter said. “It was a very, very close vote, I think it was decided by three votes. So it was somewhat controversial in town.”
In the end the farm was purchased and saved. The contention has quieted. But the line has been drawn. For half the town the American Dream has already been realized. The other half is still making the dream real.
By Bob Seay | Friday, November 18, 2011
Nov. 18, 2011
BOSTON — In the November installment of our series “Where We Live,” WGBH News reporters have gone to cities and towns around the Commonwealth to share stories of people — from those who have given up on the American Dream to those who have embraced it and managed to survive and even prosper in a bleak economy.
But these mostly positive stories have been told against a backdrop of mostly negative economic data derived from the 2010 US Census.
The independent think tank MassINC has titled its analysis: “Meeting the Challenges of the Bay State’s Lost Decade.” It tells the tale of a middle class hit hard by the loss of 150,000 jobs since 2000.
What's happening with the American Dream in Mass.?
Ben Forman, research director for MassINC, elaborated on the findings.
WGBH News: Where We Live
“For the first time in decades median household income has declined in Massachusetts by about 6 percent. And median family income — that was just about stagnant over the last decade. That hasn’t happened before,” he said.
And the economic effects are evident in how people reported feeling to MassINC researchers.
“When we asked people over the last 10 years ‘Has it become easier or more difficult to live the kind of life your family wants to live?’ 54 percent said more difficult. Only 11 percent said easier,” he said. “When we asked, looking ahead, if the next generation will be financially better off or worse off, 48 percent said worse off. Only 17 percent said better off.”
Forman said that while we’ve been losing middle-income jobs it’s been difficult to attract new businesses here that have those jobs.
The state’s high cost of living, he said, “makes it very difficult for businesses to locate here, especially businesses that are employing middle-income workers, because middle-income workers feel those costs most intensely — and so they’d rather be in a place like North Carolina or Arizona or somewhere where the costs are lower.”
This recession has hit younger people very hard, especially college graduates, Forman said: “Over the last decade we created about 240,000 jobs for people over age 55 and we lost about 220,000 jobs for people between ages 25 and 44.”
Making the situation worse for recent graduates is the fact that Massachusetts has a grayer-than-average workforce. Since 2000 there has been a 44 percent increase in the number of workers age 55 and older, with many hanging onto their jobs because of concerns about their own financial futures.
But what about our many high-tech and life sciences firms — aren’t they creating jobs? Not enough, Forman said.
“We gained jobs and outperform the country in life sciences and some small niche sectors but those certainly aren’t enough to replace the middle-income, middle class jobs that we’ve been losing,” he said. “The industries we’re been creating here, often there’s three people in the world who can do the job the company is looking for. So no matter how hard we try, we’re not always going to fill those [jobs] with homegrown talent.”
Forman said the challenge is not so much incubating companies but keeping them here after they hatch, because often what they make can be produced anywhere and by a much smaller workforce than the industries of old.
Possibilities and pitfalls
MassINC researchers said things we could do to improve the situation include boosting tax credits for lower-income earners to help them meet the high cost of living and promoting the development of affordable housing especially in urban areas.
And, Forman said, there are some things we should not do, such as abandoning the state’s commitment to K-12 education or not maintaining our transportation infrastructure
“The reason those companies are going to be successful is because of the MBTA and because they can get to Kendall Square, the innovation district and the Seaport, to the new Northpoint area that’s being developed or the new life sciences center that Harvard is going to build in Allston,” he said. “If we let the MBTA fail it would be a huge economic development loss for us. We have the most talented people on earth and they get treated like cattle every day on their way to work. And I think there we have to ask ourselves: Do we want to lose those people? Where are they going to go?”
Although many think Massachusetts is well poised, with its intellectual capital, to take advantage of any economic recovery, the road to prosperity is fraught with danger — including the expected cuts in federal spending on defense and health that would be felt here more severely than anywhere else. Experts have also been concerned about the economic health of the countries that Massachusetts is counting on to buy our high-tech products and technology.
So is there hope?
“I think anyone would be crazy to doubt America and Massachusetts in particular,” Forman said. “Sometimes it takes us a while but we figure it out.”
The word “reinvention” is heard throughout the WGBH News “Where We Live” series. It’s something we New Englanders are proud of: our ingenuity and ability to adapt and change course. Those talents have led to some success during this recession — and they will be needed to meet the challenges ahead.
By Jaclyn Cashman | Thursday, November 17, 2011
Nov. 16, 2011
ATTLEBORO — Attleboro was once considered “the Jewelry Capital of the World,” employing thousands of workers at area factories making pieces such as college rings and money clips.
George Shelton, the executive director of the Attleboro Industrial Museum, said it was a classic mill town where everyone lived right around the corner from where they worked. “The downtown coexisted with the factory areas,” he said.
Today there are very few restaurants in downtown Attleboro. A century ago, said Attleboro Historical Commission Director Marian Wrightington, it was a different story.
“The factories downtown would run 24/7,” she said. “We were told that there were 27 diners that would be in downtown to feed all these workers.”
But then came the Great Fire of Attleboro in 1898, where 19 factories burned down. Though many were rebuilt, downtown would never be the same.
Changing times change a town
“Those that were destroyed pretty much all came back but not in the same location,” Shelton said. “So the core of the downtown with the factories and stores changed.”
WGBH News: Where We Live
Eventually those factories moved even farther away. Like so many manufacturing cities across the US, jobs have gone overseas, leaving plenty of empty buildings behind and many blue-collar workers looking for work.
Wrightington has lived in Attleboro most of her life and has seen firsthand how the once-bustling downtown has evolved.
“We used to have neighborhood stores,” she said, “and then we got malls and everything moved out of the main streets.”
New appeal in a new era
However, Attleboro has one big advantage today. It splits the difference between Boston and Providence — making it an ideal commuting town.
The commuting convenience was one driving factor for Jeanine and Michael Levinson who moved to Attleboro a few years ago.
“There’s a lot within a short distance to Attleboro,” Jeanine said. She has a finance job in town. Her husband is an attorney in Providence. They moved from Dighton because they believed the schools were better here.
Michael said, “I am a product of public education and I am a believer in public education and wanted to send my kids to a public school system. Attleboro was one of the leaders in the state. It was on the upswing, which I was really happy about.”
Another attraction for the Levinsons was the cost of living. The median price for a single-family home in Attleboro is about $280,000. And while they don’t have children yet, they are already concerned about saving for college tuition.
Michael said, “We are savers anyway and we invest and plan for our retirement. It is just another area we are saving so we don’t saddle our kids with a lot of debt.”
So they may not have a dog, a white picket fence or kids just yet, but the Levinsons feel that with a lot of hard work they will have the American Dream.
“I think if we are not living the American Dream we are well on our way as a young couple,” Michael said. Jeanine called it “a dream in process.”
By Phillip Martin | Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Nov. 16, 2011
LAWRENCE — Nick Laboy leads a tour of a former textile factory that is soon to become home to dozens of families in this hardscrabble town. “It’s 20 per floor. 60 families will move in,” he said.
A pastel mosaic frames the elevator. He goes up to the model unit, which is set up with furniture.
Laboy is the proud building supervisor for this new low-cost rental apartment development called Union Crossing that sits on the banks of the Merrimack River. A father of two, Laboy came to Lawrence from Puerto Rico in the 1980s. He glanced out the window toward the rushing river below.
“I remember the ‘80s here. It wasn’t fun. A lot of violence,” he said. “A lot of boarded-up homes, burned-down houses. You know, besides from ourselves, there’s a lot of other organizations that made it a point to get in Lawrence and clean it up. But Lawrence is a different place now.”
WGBH News: Where We Live
Some see the river that flows through the city as the perfect metaphor for some of the changes that are taking place here.
Heather McMann has spent most of her life on the Merrimack. She heads up Groundwork Lawrence, a nonprofit that works with Lawrence residents to grow community gardens and to clean up parks, vacant lots and waterways that were once literal dumping grounds for industrial waste.
“We’ve got mills that are being redeveloped. Vacant lots that are community gardens. Bridges that have amazing lights. We have people that are walking their dogs, there’s fishing here. There’s fox. There’s heron,” said McMann. “But I want it to be beautiful so that that is not incidental… I want to be able to see the flowers and the trees and I want this to be something that I enjoy as opposed to something I think needs to be improved.”
And that takes hard work, said McMann’s co-worker Rosa Pena. Pena is from Venezuela. She recently led dozens of neighborhood volunteers to a vacant lot in east Lawrence.
They found “a lot of tires. We had a lot of trash. Glass. We had an area that was full of dirty diapers. Somebody just used it as a dump place,” she said. Sometimes what they found was even more dangerous: “When we find firearms, we call the police non-emergency number. They will come pick it up.”
Pena arrived in Lawrence in 1987. Now she is finally starting to see her American Dream come true: the cleanup and transformation of this old mill town and nature’s reclamation of the Merrimack.
“We see sometimes ducklings going around, and it is beautiful just to sit down and look at them,” she said.
The Merrimack River is what brought tens of thousands of immigrants from Italy, Germany, Poland and Lithuania to this city. The fast-flowing waterway provided power to dozens of job-rich textile mills that were constructed in the 19th and 20th centuries on the riverbanks.
In the 1960s, Lawrence experienced immigrant waves from the Dominican Republic and citizens from Puerto Rico. Today, Hispanics comprise more than 74 percent of Lawrence’s nearly 76,000 residents. More than one-third live below the official poverty line, and the median income is a little more than $29,000 per year. See more data about Lawrence.
But hardships have not prevented people from imagining a better life.
“I just submit my paper to become a citizen. So I am in that process. So right now that’s my American dream,” said Arleen Zorilla from the Dominican Republic.
She is an employee of Lawrence Community Works. If it takes a village to get things done, the hub of that village is here. Every day 200 to 300 people pass through these doors seeking help on immigration status, financial literacy, housing and a host of other issues that might move them closer to achieving their dreams.
Juan Bonilla used to volunteer here. The Bowdoin College graduate now leads a small-dollar loan campaign to counter local loan sharks and confidence men.
“This is our attempt to spread the gospel of good financial management to the community,” said Bonilla. “One of the issues we’re finding is that a lot of families — out of not trusting the banks, out of the lack of convenience — will find check-cashing places and so forth and they end up paying significant fees for those services. Well, the small-dollar loan program is meant to issue short-term loans that will take care of those immediate needs but at a reasonable cost and reasonable interest rate. It’s all about working together.”
Immigrant Susan Acepalo from Peru agreed.
“The first time I came here, I was quite afraid and the people that I knew give me bad idea of the city,” she said. “And I moved away, and when I came back and I looked around and I realize that it’s not that bad. There are things that we could improve, of course, but at the same time I came to realize that getting involved with the neighborhood helps you. You get to know people, and they are real people too.”
Acepalo’s family was able to purchase a home in Lawrence right before the recession, and to hold on to it with the help of her community. Home ownership remains the centerpiece of the American Dream, said Tamar Kotelchuck, director of policy and neighborhood planning at Lawrence Community Works:
“We want it to be true that people who work full-time — more than full-time quite often — are able to afford a decent place to live [and] are able to save money so their kids can go to college, and we support that through helping people buy homes, to helping people save money,” she said. “Fundamentally, it’s about helping working poor people make a way for themselves. “
And, if you can’t own, you rent. It’s moving day for Carolina Hidalgo, a professional hairdresser and mother or two. She’s the proud occupant of one of the new three-bedroom apartments at Union Crossing — a dream made possible with help from Lawrence Community Works.
“This is the first time I see a place like this that’s affordable, and it’s heat-included,” she said excitedly. “And they have the original floors in some of the rooms, and I love it!”
Folks here are quick to point out that what we call the American Dream is affirmed by communityas much as the result of any individual effort: from expertise in purchasing or renting a home to neighborhood cleanups of empty lots and the rivers and canal that flow through this city.
The high ceiling windows of Hidalgo’s new modern three-bedroom apartment provide a view of the Merrimack that she had never seen in her 17 years in Lawrence.
“When I look out that window and I see those buildings and the river, it looks like I’m in a different place,” she said.
For her, and perhaps for all the residents of Lawrence, this could be considered a picture of progress.
By Terry and Rick Palardy | Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Nov. 16, 2011
GEORGETOWN, Mass. — We are living our retirement dream. Rick started making wooden ornaments for gifts back in the mid-‘70s in Georgetown. Both sets of parents were living in town also. We bought a small cottage-turned-home, and he began digging, with pick and shovel as his dad had done before him, to create a work space underneath the house. He set up a few tools, and continued making ornaments. Many years later, we sold that first home and moved to where we are now, on North Street.
It is always Christmas here. Rick makes more than just ornaments now... wooden trucks, spinning gravity-powered carousels of all sorts, tops, puzzles, doll furniture to fit the popular 18" dolls, a rocking baby cradle, a rocking motorcycle and scroll-cut plaques for the US military branches.
I have always painted the ornaments and now make coverlets and quilts for the doll furniture. I play Christmas music out in the shop all year long, and during the school year spent many hours sitting in that happy setting to correct student essays.
I continued teaching until this past June, 2011, when I had to retire due to limitations caused by multiple sclerosis. I began self-publishing the writings I'd been doing for years... some on teaching, some poetry, and some on living in the small town of Georgetown after growing up in the City of Boston. I continue to quilt, continue to donate infant quilts to the neonatal unit of Lawrence General Hospital (something I'd started anonymously with a group of students who met after school to stitch with me) and now I am making one for the Linus Project and for the ALS patients project.
Our parents are gone now, and our children grown. But we are living our happily-ever-after years, right here near the center of town, where we can walk to everything basic when we, too, reach the age when we can no longer drive. I just published a book, through Amazon, and on sale at our shop and at Little's Block of Shoppes in Georgetown Square. The title of the book is "Georgetown at the Turn of the Millennium." In it I share stories of our town.
Terry and Rick Palardy are the proprietors of Wooden Toys and Gifts in Georgetown, Mass. You can read Terry's writing at Beyond Old Windows.