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Cushman Market and Cafe/VisitingNewEngland small business partnership - Local Small Business Stories

LOCAL SMALL BUSINESS TREASURE: Cushman Market and Cafe, North Amherst, Massachusetts

Cushman Market and Cafe in Amherst, Massachusetts
Cushman Market and Cafe.

Article and photos by Eric Hurwitz. Article created on 3/4/2018.

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Even before arriving at Cushman Market and Cafe in Amherst, Mass., there's an anticipatory warm and fuzzy feeling about this neighborhood business. Locally-owned grocery stores and cafes have that effect in a world that has otherwise gone corporate and supersized.

Visitors often go through an effort, though, to arrive at this local small business treasure. Cushman's location resides outside bustling downtown Amherst and even beyond UMass Amherst on the perimeter of the central district. It's worth the few extra minutes drive, however, as beautiful old homes and rural views lead to the brightly-colored Cushman's exterior on a quiet country road right by a peaceful town common and railroad tracks.

Virtual silence in the air greets visitors upon approaching Cushman Market and Deli -- no traffic, loud buses, and man-made machine noises related to those familiar ongoing infrastructure projects in Massachusetts. For a minute, one wonders if the quiet aura extends into Cushman Market and Cafe, but a turn into the back parking lot refutes that concern. The lot is packed and people consistently getting out of their cars within just a 30-second time span. Upon entering the market through the red-painted door below the 60s-style, multi-colored Cushman's sign in the front, the likeability factor starts right away with a display of locally-made homemade breads.

Local homemade bread at Cushman Market and Cafe in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Homemade breads in the general store section of Cushman Market and Cafe.

The old wooden floors, the local food products, natural oven-roasted chickens, grocery store basics and gifts collectively saturate the small space the way an old-fashioned neighborhood grocery store did so back in the day. The market -- or general store, if you will -- at Cushman's also exhibits a nexus to what was almost always seen at well-run, indepedently-owned grocery stores of the past: Not one item on the shelves appears to be out of place!

The old-time market section of Cushman Market and Cafe in Amhest, Massachusetts.
The market section of Cushman Market and Cafe

Walking front to back in the market eventually reveals, on the other hand, something that was rarely seen at older grocery stores -- that is, a beautiful rustic cafe. The 36-seat cafe has a personality of its own, yet seems to co-exist perfectly and seamlessly with the general store section. Students, locals, families with children, travelers and, generally, a warm mix of various races, colors and creeds peacefully come together -- WiFi or sans technology -- at the high top and traditional tables for some breakfast, lunch, baked goods or maybe just a cup of coffee or tea. The period lights, old-fashioned authentic crate labels, art and memorabilia on the walls, local artist's work under some of the table glasses, and the wood frame post-and-beam design create a cozy, unique intimate vibe that provides a welcoming setting that seems part college town joint, part neighborhood eatery. From no hair (babies) to purple hair to elderly white hair, the generations all seem to feel at home here. From two perspectives, here is that quaint dining room...

The cafe at Cushman Market and Cafe in North Amherst, Massachusetts.
View of cafe dining room upon entering from the market

Dining room at Cushman Market and Cafe in North Amherst, Massachusetts
Another dining room perspective from the back entrance of Cushman Market and Cafe

"I always liked 'off the beaten path,'" said Pete Sylvan, who owns Cushman Market and Cafe with wife, Becca Schwartz. "It feels like a hidden gem, but we are not a hidden gem. Just look around (all tables are filled at 11 a.m.)."

Prosperous times escaped this location not too long ago, however, as Pete and Becca bought a building in 2003 through foreclosure that was empty for two years and came with burst pipes, a buried tank and various forms of blight. What a far cry from the community grocery store -- under various owners -- that graced this site since George Cogswell bought the land in 1892 to build a market.

"The doors of this place were locked when the past owners left one day," said Pete. "It was deteriorating badly."

Pete, a former dentist and Becca with an architectural background and a keen eye for art, were ready to settle in the beautiful Amherst area and decided to take a chance with reopening the market in 2005. Contractors went through painstaking efforts to help Pete and Becca's vision and dream come true, and today, Cushman Market and Cafe has not only brought back to life the glorious visual template of this historic building but also a new spirited, thriving business beloved by the community and visitors.

An added benefit: By purchasing the building, Pete and Becca helped avert Amherst's proposed mandatory neighborhood rezoning to entirely "residential" in this area now known as Cushman Village.

Pete Sylvan and Becca Schwartz, owners of Cushman Market and Cafe in Amhest, Massachusetts
Pete Sylvan and Becca Schwartz, owners of Cushman Market and Cafe.

"We wanted to keep as much of the 'old' as possible, but get things up to date without compromising too much when we renovated," said Becca, who has contributed in fostering the look of Cushman's in many ways including building the bench she is sitting on in the photo above.

Box crate labels at the cafe at Cushman Market and Cafe in Amherst, Mass.
A wall of crate labels.

Pete and Becca created the menu and talented chef Brigid Moore runs the kitchen, which produces wonderful food options that include hearty salads, a new vegan menu, sandwiches (named after box crate labels), egg on a roll and grilled cheese options, paninis, Hobo's ("the Ultimate Bowl of Goodness"), New York City-style bagels, and traditional and creative breakfasts. Coffee comes from a local roaster, milk from a dairy farm two miles down the road and maple from a farm three miles away.

"We source locally, whenever possible, and use no artificial ingredients or additives," said Pete. "Brigid is a great cook."

Locomotive Hobo bowl from Cushman Market and Cafe in Amherst, Mass., includes roasted potatoes, Canadian bacon, cheddar cheese, cor bread and kale topped with an egg over-easy and chipotle sauce.
Locomotive Hobo with roasted potatoes, Canadian bacon, cheddar, corn bread and kale topped with an egg, over-easy, and chipotle sauce

Salmon burger with wild caught Alaska salmon, luttuce, tomato, red onion and lemon dill mayo sauce on a roll from Cushman Market and Deli in Amherst, Mass.
Salmon burger with wild caught Alaskan salmon, lettuce, tomato, red onion and lemon-dill mayo on a roll.

Cushman's also offers an outstanding variety of coffee and sweets. One of the most popular treats: the peanut butter and chocolate balls, otherwise known as Buckeye Balls (an Ohio favorite). Pete, a University of Michigan grad, sells this tasty snack as an ode to the football rivalry between his old alma mater and the Ohio State Buckeyes. For the record, Michigan leads Ohio State 58-49-6 (ties), all-time, much to Pete's happiness. Pete's good-natured feelings towards Ohio State's football team can be seen at the front counter display...

Peanut butter and chocolate balls from Cushman Market and Cafe in North Amherst, Massachusetts.
Peanut butter and chocolate Buckeyes.

Cushman Market and Cafe also offers a delightful outdoor dining patio, as well as Sunday morning jazz from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. that features many talented local musicians. And virtually everywhere you look -- inside and out -- there's always an original touch to this beautiful small business. Cases-in-point: the rooster sign created by a local artist and remnants of the much older version of this building in the cafe...

Rooster sign just outside Cushman Market and Cafe in North Amherst, Massachusetts.
Artful rooster sign outside Cushman Market and Cafe.

Rustic wall at Cushman Market and Cafe in Amherst, Massachusetts
An original wall at Cushman Market and Cafe.

The old and the new synergistically create a wonderful environment to shop and dine at Cushman Market and Cafe. It's a truly one-of-a-kind, must-visit Amherst food destination and one that beams with pride of small business ownership.

"We put a lot of value on engagement that includes a happy staff, community and those from outside the area" said Pete. "It's a busy business where you can still have an enjoyable experience."

"There is nothing cookie cutter about this place from our food and atmosphere down to the paper straws that we use instead of plastic!" concluded Becca.

Cushman Market and Cafe is located at 491 Pine Street, Amherst, MA. Tel. (413-549-0100. Web site: Facebook fan page:

Cushman Market and Cafe in Amherst, Mass.
View of Cushman Market and Cafe from the town common.

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