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The Eastover Resort and Conference Center, 
Lenox, Massachusetts to Close

By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, Mass.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 5, 2009--LENOX -- Citing increased operating costs due to the slumping economy, the owner of the popular Eastover Resort and Conference Center said she will close the 62-year, family-owned resort Nov. 1.

Dorothy H. "Ticki" Winsor, whose late father, George J. Bisacca, turned the former Fahnestock Estate into a year-round recreational resort in 1947, said she plans to sell the 500-acre, multi-building property, but isn't sure when it will go on the market. Her daughter, Betsy Kelly, said she didn't know what the asking price would be.

Kelly said if the property is sold before the closing date, the East Street facility will remain as Eastover Resort until Nov. 1.

The resort has 40 to 85 employees, depending on the season, and Winsor said they all will remain on the job until Eastover closes. Workers were notified of the decision to close on Monday.

"They were very, very sad," Winsor said, referring to the employees' reaction to her decision. "Working here is like working with family."

Winsor said closing the family-owned business is difficult.

"Oh, my gosh, yes," she said. "My father started it. I've lived here for 62 years of my life. My children were born here. My grandchildren were born here. Some of the people who work here have been here almost all of the 62 years."

In a letter to employees and guests, Winsor wrote, "This difficult economy has hit our small, family-owned business hard.

Increasing operational costs as well as local and state regulations have made it impossible for Eastover to continue the long-standing tradition of excellence it has become known for."

In a telephone interview, Winsor said Eastover is having difficulty maintaining the upkeep on the 24 smaller buildings it owns in addition to the Fahnestock estate.

"You have roofs that need to be repaired," she said. "Anyone who owns buildings knows that it's tough to keep up with those capital costs."

She said reservations at Eastover have been "up and down."

George Bisacca, who died in 1983, was a community supporter and Civil War buff who made Eastover more than just a place to stay. Eastover was a part of the fabric of the community to countless Berkshire County residents -- or, as Winsor put it in her letter, "a neighbor, an employer, a friend."

Eastover has hosted countless high school proms, company get-togethers, school field trips, holiday parties, weddings and family reunions. It also served as the site of the Massachusetts Special Olympic Winter Games for more than 20 years.

In addition, Eastover supplies the cannon that the Boston Symphony Orchestra uses during its performance of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" at Tanglewood every summer.

"I don't think there was a kid who graduated from high school in Berkshire County that didn't have a part-time job at Eastover," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli. "It was part of the fabric of Lenox. I'm very saddened by the news today."

"As a lifelong resident of Lenox, it's devastating," he said. "George Bisacca's family has owned it for over 50 years. It was part of this community and put Lenox on the map. From the very first day I worked in the Statehouse to just last week, whenever I meet people, the first words out of their mouths have been 'Eastover Resort.' It's a huge loss for Lenox as well as Berkshire County."

The economic downturn has led to fluctuations in the county's lodging industry. The Comfort Inn in Great Barrington is working on an expansion project, but Lenox's Canyon Ranch has laid off 42 employees since November.

After the second layoff of 12 employees in February, Canyon Ranch CEO Jerry Cohen said the resort's two locations -- in Lenox and Tucson, Ariz. -- had experienced a 10 to 12 percent decline in reservations.

"I think it's a sign of the economic climate that we're in," Pignatelli said Monday.

The Fahnestock Estate was constructed by New York City stockbroker Harris Fahnestock in 1910 as a summer cottage for his family.

Fahnestock named the building "Eastover." His original 1,500-acre estate included a stable, now known as "Tally Ho," a chauffeur's home, an eight-car garage currently known as "The Lodge," and a small pump house now called "The Rebel Cottage."

Fahnestock's heirs sold the estate at auction in 1941, and it became a boys' school that went bankrupt in 1944. Bisacca purchased the property, which had been reduced to 500 acres, for $41,500 in 1946. Eastover Resort opened on Memorial Day in 1947.


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