$19K grant supporting solar power for Greenfield bookstore

Raymond Neal, owner of Roundabout Books, in front of the business’ new location on Pierce Street in Greenfield.

Raymond Neal, owner of Roundabout Books, in front of the business’ new location on Pierce Street in Greenfield. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 09-07-2023 3:18 PM

GREENFIELD — As Roundabout Books prepares to open its new location on Pierce Street, a federal grant will help the business prepare for an even brighter future.

The independent bookshop received an $18,976 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant through the Rural Energy for America Program, which will allow owner Raymond Neal to pay for the rewiring of the former Diamond-Electric Soap Factory to allow for the installation of a photovoltaic solar array on the south side of the roof.

“For our purposes, what it does is the electrical service upgrade. It takes a job that would be prohibitively expensive … and allows us to upgrade the electrical to do solar,” Neal explained. “I’d like to be as close to carbon neutral as we can.”

On top of replacing the electrical system, Neal said the building’s roof also needed to be replaced to support a solar array. Once the electrical system is revamped, Neal said he’ll work with Greenfield Solar to install the solar system.

Since buying the building at 85 Pierce St. in 2021, Neal has steadily been preparing it to open. The new location allows Roundabout Books — formerly operated out of 26 Kenwood St. — to expand its store collection to roughly 100,000 volumes. The business also offers an online store.

Neal estimates Roundabout Books will be welcoming people inside its new location in early November. He also hopes the electrical work will be done in early 2024. Work on the solar array will commence from there.

While Roundabout Books is far from the typical USDA client, the agency’s Rural Energy for America Program also includes small businesses in communities like Franklin County, alongside the nation’s farmers. In the latest round of funding, the USDA awarded a total of $266 million in loans and grants to businesses and farms in 47 states, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico.

“This program helps increase American energy independence by increasing the private sector supply of renewable energy and decreasing the demand for energy through energy efficiency improvements,” the agency states on the Rural Energy for America Program’s webpage. “Over time, these investments can also help lower the cost of energy for small businesses and agricultural programs.”

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Alongside the bookshop, two other businesses in the Pioneer Valley also received USDA grants for installing solar arrays, with Amherst’s Sunset Farm receiving $11,189 and Hadley’s Flayvors of Cook Farm receiving $20,000.

For Neal, he said the act of putting solar on his shop, which he’s been “excited since day one” to do, is about showing a physical example of what the store stands for.

“You want to show people what you’re about,” Neal said.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.