In downtown Pittsfield, history looks for an encore appearance

  • COURTESY

  • COURTESY

  • COURTESY

  • Tracy Huyck dreams of transforming the mess that was the Odd Fellows Hall on the third floor of the Union Block building in downtown Pittsfield into a new home for her and her husband. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Tracy Huyck looks over the hidden doors on the third floor that was once Odd Fellows building and her dream is to turn it into the couple’s new home, a giant apartment with 20-foot high ceilings. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Tracy Huyck dream is to transform that mess that was the Odd Fellows building into the couple’s new home, a giant apartment with 20-foot high ceilings. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Tracy Huyck stands in the abandoned office next to the store she will be opening in the Union Block on Main Street in Pittsfield on Thursday, April 25, 2019. Her dream is to transform the mess that was the abandoned Union Building in downtown Pittsfield into a variety store, office space and the couple’s new home on the third floor. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Tracy Huyck opens up the new Pittsfield’s Main St. Variety in the downtown on Thursday, April 25, 2019. Her dream is to transform the mess that was the abandoned Union Building in downtown Pittsfield into a variety store, office space and the couple’s new home on the third floor. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Union Block on Main Street in downtown Pittsfield is shown. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 4/25/2019 5:45:53 PM

She sounded trite at first.

Work hard, Tracy Huyck told me, and good fortune will find you. Stay strong. Never quit. Blah, blah, blah.

Well, it turns out that Huyck is not just paying lip service to phony optimism. She has lots of experience overcoming obstacles – serious injuries to herself and her husband, the death of a loved one.

So why not believe that Huyck can one day turn an old abandoned big brick building in downtown Pittsfield – located at 18 to 22 Main Street – into a thriving business, adding to the revitalization of a mill town that is forever seeking ways to lift its image?

Don’t bet against her.

“Yes, it’s scary starting a new business,” Huyck said during a tour of the building, an utter mess filled with debris after years of neglect. “But we believed that we could, so we bought it. We always believed that if you tried hard enough, you could accomplish it.”

The building speaks different things to different people. To some, it’s merely an eyesore, sitting right in the middle of downtown Pittsfield, looking more old than historic, its three floors looking as though no clean-up crew in the world could conquer them.

To others, like Huyck, it stands as what once was and what could be again. Huyck is opening a convenience store in the bottom right-side section, just like it was before closing last year. An insurance company was based there about 10 years ago, and decades ago there were doctor and dentist offices on the second floor, while Odd Fellows Home members met on the third floor.

Huyck also sees a restaurant or maybe a brewery on the left-hand side’s first floor, near the corner of Oak Street. And on the third floor, her dream is to transform that mess into the couple’s new home, a giant apartment with 20-foot high ceilings.

Huyck knew lots of work would be needed when she bought the place last October. But, like the hand she’s been dealt in life, she never dreamed things would be this hard.

“It was a lot of work to be done, and we thought we would just clean up and put some paint on and new flooring,” Huyck said. “But we’ve needed electrical work and plumbing and there are rotted floor issues.”

Call it yet another adjustment in a life full of adjustments.

On Feb. 16, 2008, when her husband, Mohammad Ahmed, was an employee at the site’s old K2 Market convenience store, he was working the register alone, shortly before closing time.

A man named Kevin Rawnsley entered wearing a hoodie and robbed the place. He beat Ahmed with a baseball bat, inflicting permanent damage. Rawnsley stole $200 to support his cocaine habit.

“As my husband was reaching to turn off the cooler lights, (Rawnsley) raced around the shelving and beat him,” Huyck said. “He knocked him unconscious.”

Ahmed regained consciousness long enough to call his wife. Someone walking outside on Main Street heard screams and called 911.

The case turned cold before Rawnsley was arrested five years later and sentenced to 7½ to 15 years in prison.

Ahmed, meanwhile, had three deep lacerations on his head and an uncertain future. He had to learn to read and write again. Not even Second Start could help, telling Huyck that his brain damage was too extensive for any real progress to surface.

So Huyck tutored him, using school supplies sold to kindergarten students, tracing on paper to show Ahmed how to draw letters from the alphabet.

“We worked and worked and worked,” Huyck told me.

Quoted in the Monitor in July of 2013, after Rawnsley had been convicted of robbery with a deadly weapon, Ahmed said in a statement, “Sometimes I think it better if I have no life if I have to live like this.”

Ahmed still suffers from post-concussion syndrome and short-term memory loss. He lost a pair of jobs due to his injuries. He also had a dream to own the store himself, and that goal has now been reached.

“We thought in the long run,” Huyck said, “it was best if we own our business.”

Huyck, meanwhile, had her own physical challenges, surfacing after she was rear-ended at a traffic light near Fort Eddy Plaza 7 ½ years ago. She has what she calls a “fake neck,” meaning she received three discs, plates and screws.

And then there’s her daughter’s stepdaughter, a victim of bullying because, at 11 years old, she dared to be different, dared to admit she might be more attracted to girls than boys. She was bullied mercilessly online. She took her own life last June.

“A nightmare,” Huyck said. “They found over 30 text messages telling her to kill herself because she was different.”

And yet here’s Huyck, still standing, still laughing at jokes. She’s working with local law enforcement and the Pittsfield School District, trying to show what drugs and bullying can do to kids. She’s helped gather and distribute toys for poor children.

And she stands in the middle of this Main Street mess, a brick structure that can turn an orange glow when the sun hits it just right, but looks like it was hit with a cyclone once you see inside.

The convenience store part has coolers and shelves ready for stock, and local makers of jams and bread are ready to sell their wares.

Ahmed is now back at the scene of the crime, back to a business that he always wanted to own, even after the baseball bat incident. A native of Bangladesh, Ahmed told me in a thick accent, “I am so happy. God gave me my dream.”

He and Huyck gave me a tour of this brick staple, once home to an insurance company, a bakery, a harness maker, a clothing manufacturer, a grocery store, professional offices and, most recently, the convenience store that closed about a year ago.

They showed me rotting floors and an old, dusty piano covered with a blue tarp. They showed me wooden palates leaning against a pair of doors to keep them closed and stop kids from breaking in with their spray-paint cans.

They showed old wooden doors, loose from their hinges; the old alarm box outside, high on a brick wall; the old fuse box with dated levers that once turned the power on and off; the magnificent high ceilings; the potential to bring back a simpler time through restoration.

They showed me old Bingo game boards, faded paperwork from doctors mentioning something called fluoroscopic equipment.

“We’d love to see that building fixed up,” said historian Larry Berkson of Chichester, who called Pittsfield home as a kid. “When I was growing up in town, it was one of the focal points. It was an impressive building and a social center in many respects.”

The crumbling inside has one sign of hope: those recently-installed 102-inch tall windows on the third floor, which give a clear view of the cement foundation already built for the upcoming Historical Society Museum, making this specific area a core attraction of what Pittsfield hopes to one day represent.

“There was great euphoria among a lot of us because they were putting windows on the third floor,” Berkson said.

Hoops have been or soon will be jumped through, codes and guidelines set up by the fire department, the building inspector, the liquor commission and the state of New Hampshire.

In a perfect world, the convenience store will open next month. Other ideas are a long way off, including their apartment upstairs, a giant area that once featured a basketball court, compliments of the Odd Fellows Home.

Huyck and Ahmed have done a lot of the work themselves, joined by local contractors “to build a sense of community and bring that back to the downtown area,” Huyck said. “Putting pride back into the downtown.”

That pride means returning life and energy and hope to a dark, cold place.​​ A place​​​​​ Huyck has been before, more than once.

She feels good about the future.




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