Familiar Trees on North Street offers a wide selection of books on the arts, architecture and design. Stephen Rudy and Susana Gilboe opened the bookstore in August.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Two businesses new to Pittsfield in 2020 are hopeful for the new year and moving along steadily despite opening during a pandemic.
Crust Pizzeria is owned by James and Lisa Cervone, who brought locally crafted frozen yogurt to Pittsfield in 2013. Crust has the same ethics as Ayelada on East Street in being "fresh, local, and real" and prioritizes customers creating their own personalized product.
Familiar Trees is a curated bookstore owned by Stephen Rudy and Susana Gilboe. The couple migrated to the Berkshires from New York City six years ago and were inspired by the block of North Street that the shop sits on. The block includes Township Four Floristry, Dottie's Coffee Lounge, Mission Bar and Tapas, Circa Mid Century and Danish Modern Vintage Shop, and the Lantern Bar and Grill.
The Cervones did not plan on opening Crust during a pandemic, as final plans for the eatery took place in late 2019 when the world was hardly aware of COVID-19.
"It wasn't planned to open a business during a pandemic," Jim Cervone said. "It just happened."
At the end of 2019, the space that Daddyo's Diner formerly occupied next to Ayelada became available. Cervone had been looking for a space to house Crust since July and signed the lease in January 2020.
In just six months, the interior of the former diner was completely overhauled and transformed. The dining, pizza making space, and back kitchen area were modernized and an entire room dedicated to Crust's pizza dough was made.
Crust had its official opening in August. Like many others, Cervone figured that the pandemic would last four to six months and normal operations would ensue soon afterward.
He was inspired to open Crust after attending a Washington wedding two years prior with a similar concept of personalized pizzas. Cervone said the more he played around with the idea, the more interested he became.
Similar to Ayelada, mostly everything is made fresh in-house and the customer can build their pizza how they please. Crust offers many options that Cervone and his team have created, but he said the "build your own pizza" is the most popular to date.
Crust's pizza dough is aged for four days to give it flavor. There are organic house-made sauces such as red, pesto and white mushroom. Pizzas can also be topped with a variety of interesting additions such as hot honey, truffle sauce, truffle parmesan, and all kinds of rubs. Cervone noted that even the meatballs are made in house.
Because of Pittsfield's current spike in COVID-19 cases that have been of concern since Halloween, Crust is currently takeout only. Cervone said it is not worth the risk to to customers and staff for inside dining.
In normal times, the pizzeria will operate similar to Ayelada where customers enter, approach the pizza making station, and have their pizza made by staff.
Though Crust is currently limited to takeout, Cervone is excited for the future of his eatery when they are able to have full capacity.
"We don't know what our full potential is," he said.
Crust was somewhat down in sales during the last months of the year but Cervone said that is typical, as other local restaurants are experiencing the same thing.
Overall, Cervone said Crust is doing well with takeout and the staff has become very skilled in their craft since August. He is excited to watch the pizzeria reach full potential and provide a new pizza experience to Pittsfield in 2021.
Rudy and Gilboe were attracted to their current space at 411 North St. because they felt like Pittsfield was on the brink of becoming something great. After seeing the success of their friend's florist shop Township Four, which is right down the street, they wanted to become a part of the fun.
"It felt like there was some energy happening here in Pittsfield," Rudy said.
Familiar Trees has been profitable for Rudy and Gilboe since its opening in late August. Rudy said this was a pleasant surprise as they didn't know what to expect, especially opening during a pandemic.
Rudy said he and Gilboe even questioned whether the state of the world would permit them to open at all and considered going strictly online. But the couple had already put time and money into the space, which helped make the decision to open.
"It's funny because we have been really kind of shocked at how good of a reception it had, it seems like a lot of people are kind of hungering for an interesting bookstore," Rudy said. "I mean there are some great bookstores in the Berkshires but we wanted to differentiate ourselves by kind of focusing more and we do mainly art, design, architecture, photography, cinema, that kind of stuff."
Once the pandemic ends, Rudy hopes that foot traffic will pick up more as tourists are entering the Berkshires and residents are leaving their houses frequently.
"It's kind of stuff that you're not necessarily going to kind at Barnes and Noble," he said.
Despite the pandemic, Rudy and Gilboe are happy to have the shop's presence on North Street and are optimistic about the future of both Familiar Trees and Pittsfield.
"We kind of believe in Pittsfield," Rudy said. "And I think that it could end up being kind of an interesting city and I think we wanted to be part of that during the early stages."
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