Northampton is off-beat with a bustling cultural atmosphere and can be described as “bourgeois bohemian”: a predominantly liberal, white, and upper-middle-class suburb. It is not unusual to see middle-aged activists protesting on the street corners, waving signs and wearing Converse sneakers. Hippies and hipsters abound, and while chain stores such as Starbucks and Urban Outfitters have recently begun multiplying on Main Street, most of the stores are locally owned. There are thrift shops, used-book stores, coffee shops, and funky boutiques. The Calvin Theatre is popular with students and has showcased musicians such as Ziggy Marley, Belle and Sebastian, and Joan Baez and comedians like Dave Chappelle, Margaret Cho, and Roseanne Barr. More off-beat musicians play at the Iron Horse or Pearl Street Nightclub, which are also favorites with many students.
Northampton’s big-city aspirations are obvious by its nickname, NoHo, a takeoff of SoHo and NoHo in Manhattan. Despite these aspirations, the word most often used to describe the town is “quaint.” Some students coming from bigger cities find it difficult to adjust. Stores close early, and it is a little pricey for a college town. When students need things like snacks and toiletries, they often head to the Hampshire Mall to go to Wal-Mart. However, most students say they love Northampton—it is active and vibrant with a respected cultural community. And even though it’s considered a suburb, the surrounding rural setting makes NoHo seem like a bustling metropolis.