Slobody Farm Conservation Area, Station Road
Anyone who has ever shared a fox hole -- literally or metaphorically -- understands the bonds created after surviving a particularly combative situation where you both had to work together almost as one. And those bonds grow even stronger if you were fast friends prior to taking fire.
Rich Slobody, who passed away suddenly on Monday after a six month battle with pancreatic cancer, was just such a friend ... and the town is ever so diminished by his loss.
If you drive down University Drive you will see his handiwork, a large office building next to the Post Office and a smaller new building in the final stages of construction next door that will perhaps someday be a highly profitable medical marijuana dispensary.
101 University Drive, Slobody Technology Park Building
85 University Drive. 1st to get SB approval for pot dispensary but still needs Special Permit from ZBA
But if you look at it closely you will see a hallmark of my ever so savvy friend and consummate businessman: a drive up window, making it perfect for distribution of legal medicinal marijuana or turning it into a bank should the pot deal fall through.
Richie was one of my first karate students when the Karate Health Fitness Center opened in 1982 at the "dead mall." He had studied martial arts before but unlike most of those types he did not have a chip on his shoulder about his original discipline being the best in the world.
At the time he owned two bars and my fiance had secretly colluded with him to throw me a "bachelor party" at Jason's Pub in Easthampton. He later sold that just before the state increased the drinking age to 21 and it went out of business soon thereafter.
But he kept Charlie's in Amherst for another 20+ years, only selling it a few years ago to a long time employee. He was broken hearted when it went out of business, becoming what is now Old Towne Tavern.
In 1999 we endured together the "Smoking Ban in Bars War". He as a barowner and me as a crusading columnist for the Amherst Bulletin, which later named it the top issue of the year.
Amherst was first in Massachusetts to ban smoking in bars since they are a "workplace." Yes, the ban in restaurants had been around for a while, but nobody wanted to mess with the bar culture.
The Northampton Board of Health tried it first but buckled after a heated challenge from Packard's and a few others.
And after a year of the constant strife generated in Amherst by the ban, I kind of understood why state or local officials didn't want to deal with flack from barowners.
Rich was shunned by his fellow downtown compatriots because he instantly conformed to the smoking ban, and that first summer he told me Charlie's lost $10,000 vs the $10,000 in profit it had made the previous summer.
One of the last times I had a chance to talk with him and fondly reminisce about old times was at a memorial service for another Amherst icon, former barowner Chick Delano, who had pretty much put Richie on a blacklist all those years earlier.
Even more tellingly he was most proud of the deal he negotiated with the town to sell his family horse farm on Station Road to our Conservation Department, not because of the $900,000 or so it generated in revenues but because the town forever designated it, "Slobody Farm Conservation Area."
He wanted the family surname to live on, as should he.