By Jim Giammarinaro
President & CEO of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce
FRAMINGHAM – I have always felt fortunate to grow up in Framingham. There was so much to do. We had all the restaurants and stores along route 9. There were large entertainment venues with the Carousel Theatre and the Chateau De Ville. When we went downtown there were a variety of small businesses with a diverse group of owners. There was the old Shoppers World which was a unique combination of restaurants and retailers and was set up like an outdoor mall. In high school I got a job at the old General Cinema located at Shoppers World and thought I had the best job in the world. As good as these things were, nothing impressed me more as a youth than the Sheraton. We called it “The Castle” and it was above our league. It looked like a something out of a Disney movie. I could only imagine the rich and famous ever going there.
When I became an adult, I continued to have an element of awe about the Sheraton. I had never been inside but knew that I needed to know more about it. When I got married, I took the opportunity to stay there on my wedding night. It was everything I had imagined. A beautiful entrance, friendly hotel
staff and the nicest hotel room I had ever stayed at. I thought to myself, staying at the Sheraton was a great decision. I had not idea at the time, that the Sheraton would be such a large component of my business life.
I spent the first 20 years of my career working at large corporations. I had worked at Gillette and Raytheon in and around Boston and never had the opportunity to have a business meeting in Framingham. I ventured into the world of small business in 2001 when my business partner Neil Henderson and I started Freedom Printing, a Framingham based small business. We were aware of the importance of networking and we joined the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce in our first month of operation. Ted Welte was the longtime President & CEO of the Chamber at that point in time. I quickly became aware of the chamber’s affiliation with the Sheraton and was made aware of a variety of events the chamber had at the Sheraton and other hotels throughout the region. I spent numerous evenings developing networking skills at a variety of events the chamber hosted at the Sheraton. The staff was friendly, and the environment was beautiful which made it easier to make connections and begin building lifelong business relationships. I consider the events at the Sheraton to be some of the building blocks which led to our business success.
The initial location of our business was in Trolley Square and Marlene Aron was our landlord but also the Board of Directors Chair for the MetroWest Chamber. After a few years in business, Marlene suggested that I consider a Board position at the chamber and nominated me. As a Board member I was able to learn more about what the chamber had to offer as well as why the Sheraton was a key component to the chamber’s success. Their large Board meetings could be conducted in the Sheraton’s meeting rooms which could hold up to 35 participants easily. The chamber’s Annual Meeting could approach 300 participants and could be held easily by combining 2 of their 3 ballrooms. Many non-profit members of the chamber would hold their annual fundraisers at the Sheraton. Some that I attended, such as for the MetroWest YMCA and Habitat for Humanity, had as many as 400 guests.
Ted Welte retired as President & CEO of the chamber and Bonnie Biocchi succeeded him. I served on the Executive Committee of the chamber for Bonnie as the Vice Chair for Membership. Early on in her time at the Chamber Bonnie mentioned to me that our Chamber needed a signature event, and she knew what she wanted to do and where she would have it. She created the Taste of MetroWest. It was to be held at the Sheraton and would utilize all their ballrooms as well as conference rooms just outside of the ballroom area. It was a success from year one. There was a variety of restaurants, breweries, and other exhibitors with a total of approximately 60 booths. In addition, there were over 800 attendees from the public. It was and continues to be a great community event which could only be housed at the Sheraton given its size. George Lonergan, the owner of Lonergan Construction, and I manned the Chamber’s booth at the Taste for many years.
After I sold my printing business in 2018, I continued my participation on the Board of the chamber. I was honored to accept the position of President and CEO of the chamber in September of 2019. One of the first tasks for Stephanie Hirshon (our chamber’s Deputy Director) and myself was to put on the chamber’s 2019 Annual Meeting at the Sheraton. You quickly realize how many details are behind a large event with nearly 250 people. Under the leadership of Kathy Garrahan, our Board chair, Steph and I took on the task of working with the Sheraton staff to create our event. We formed a project team and worked with Elana Duca from the Sheraton. We were also able to get advice from Jill Schindler and Beth Reynolds both of whom had previously worked at the Sheraton as well as the chamber. What great resources to have and what a great source for institutional knowledge from both the Sheraton and the Chamber.
The Sheraton had recently come upon hard times as have many hotels in our region. The impact of COVID has proven harsh for many area businesses.
We should remember everything the Sheraton has meant to our community and hope the new owners will prove to be as supportive as what we have experienced. Let’s also hope that the new owners will keep the building as a hotel and conference center and do all we can to support them to become successful.
Editor’s Note: SOURCE and the MetroWest Chamber have formed a partnership. The Chamber’s column will run on Tuesdays on the digital news media outlet.