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A Look Back at West Hartford’s Top Stories of 2021

West Hartford sign on Park Road. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

As 2021 comes to an end (finally), We-Ha.com looks back at West Hartford’s most read stories of the year.

By Ronni Newton

Happy New Year, and a hearty welcome to 2022!

While we were glad to put 2020 in the rearview mirror, in many ways we are even happier to be bidding goodbye to 2021.

Nevertheless, as the calendar year comes to an end, I always think it’s interesting to take a look back, to see which West Hartford stories and issues attracted the most interest and attention. Among the past year’s top 10 stories, only one was directly related to COVID-19, and there were quite a few restaurant stories topping the list.

A few pieces of good news about our business this year: We-Ha.com was officially launched in September 2014, and now in our seventh full year of operation we’ve seen incredible growth in readership. During the past calendar year, I’m very proud to report the site has had just about 2.9 million page views – from 1,158,597 unique visitors.

We now have more than 13,000 Facebook followers and more than 4,000 Twitter followers, and subscriptions to our free Monday/Wednesday/Friday email newsletter continue to grow as well.

We’ve had thousands of viewers on the Facebook Live roundtables that John Lyons and I have hosted, and we hope to have more regular shows in 2022.

There are many more features we would love to be able to add to We-Ha.com, and we would also like to hire more freelance writers to provide additional perspective and cover more things happening in the community.

We-Ha.com is a small, locally-owned business. The site is primarily advertiser supported and we remain committed to providing our content without a paywall. And while I try to personally stay away from that side of the business, I firmly believe that an ad on We-Ha.com is one of the best ways to get exposure in the local market (there are a lot of eyeballs on the site, and the ads appear on all pages), and I hope that as the economy continues to improve our advertising revenue will increase accordingly.

Because it’s tough to survive on the advertiser-supported model, last year we added a way for readers to provide direct support for our mission, and we thank those who have already contributed through PressPatron.com. At the bottom of this article, and at the bottom of every article (or in the top righthand corner of the home page), there is a “Become a Supporter” button. If you are able, we welcome your support.

Also, please don’t ever hesitate to email your suggestions or comments to me at [email protected].

Here are our Top 10 of 2021:

2021 Halloween House display at Matt Warshauer’s house. 115 North Main St., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

  1. While tragedies often lead the list of top stories, and there were certainly many tragedies in 2021, the story that received the most page views was related to but not directly about one of the year’s most tragic and terrifying events. “Hordes of Skeletons Stage Capitol Insurrection on Lawn of West Hartford ‘Halloween House,” Professor Matt Warshauer’s publicly artistic commentary on the events of Jan. 6, 2021, received more than 24,000 page views and more than 10,000 Facebook likes, and as usual (and as intended) inspired spirited conversations among those who appreciate the display and those who believe it’s inappropriate.
  2. Over the years West Hartford has been a backdrop for multiple movies, and in 2021 multiple film crews came to town. “West Hartford Sites Serve as Stage for Hollywood Movie” brought stars such as Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Kate Mara, Chris Messina, Cory Michael Smith, Aida Turturo, and Grace Edwards to town for the filming of the drama “Call Jane,” a “women’s empowerment movie” set prior to the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision. The No. 2 story of the year included details and photos, following the crews that spent several weeks in West Hartford, using homes and streetscapes on Farmington Avenue, Spring Lane, and Cherryfield Drive as scenes for the film. Westminster Presbyterian Church served as base camp for the crews. The film is set to premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival in January 2022, and we will share all the details when the public release is announced.
  3. A piece of business news came in as No. 3, “Whole Foods Building in West Hartford Sells for More than $40 Million.” The transaction was announced on June 22 and on the heels of the Blue Back Square shopping center selling for $40 million the previous month. The new owners, ALNIC LLC, which is headquartered in La Jolla, CA. paid $40,510,140 for the building occupied by Whole Foods and the adjacent parking lot at 50 Raymond Rd. Thus far no visible changes have been made to the property by the new owner.
  4. Coming in at No. 4 was a story about a longtime West Hartford business closing. “Harry’s Pizzeria & Tavern in West Hartford to Close in March.” In 2017, Bob and MaryAnn Hagmeier had bought Harry’s from founder Barbara Lang – who had moved the business from Hartford to 1003 Farmington Ave. in West Hartford in 1992. Harry’s, which kept much of its same decor, remained at 39 South Main St. for about a decade before closing in mid March 2021. The Harry’s name and product lives on in frozen pizza, available at Geissler’s Supermarket in Bloomfield, Granby, East Windsor, and South Windsor, as well as Highland Park Market in Farmington and Manchester, and the “Harry’s Pie” is also a menu item at Joey’s Pizza Pie on Park Road. The former Harry’s spot on South Main Street will soon be home to The Russell, a Jamaican restaurant, which should be opening in the next few weeks.
  5. News about the opening of a new restaurant – “Smoke Public House Has ‘Something for Everyone’ in West Hartford” – took the No. 5 spot. Located at 140 Park Road, Smoke Public House opened in November 2021, and offers an eclectic menu of casual fare, creative cocktails, and decadent desserts in a colorful and artistic setting.
  6. The West Hartford community continues to be politically engaged, and in sixth place was an informational piece: “Municipal Election in West Hartford: What You Need to Know,” which as the name implies provides details about the polling places, and links to all questionnaires running in November’s municipal election. The report about the election results was among the top 20 most popular stories of the year.
  7. Business Buzz is as a whole the most read feature on We-Ha.com, and on its own one of the columns came in at No. 7 among the top stories of 2021. The lead item in the Aug. 30, 2021 column was the long-awaited news that Sparrow is the name of the restaurant opening in the former Grant’s space at 977 Farmington Ave. and it is owned by former Barteca (Barcelona and bartaco) executive David Boyajian. In our most recent update (Dec. 6 Business Buzz column) we reported that the opening is planned for early 2022. Many other Business Buzz columns were included among the top 25 most-read items of the year, including the Oct. 4, March 1, May 31, Sept. 6, June 7, Oct. 11, March 15, and July 26 editions.
  8. One of several major weather stories, Flash Flooding Swamps West Hartford as Remnants of Fred Pass Through” was the eighth most read story on the We-Ha.com site in 2021. Torrential downpours from the remnants of Fred, which passed through town as a post-tropical cyclone, dropped an estimated 5 or more inches of rain in the West Hartford area on Aug. 19, flooding roads and swamping vehicles, yards, and basements. Many residents sent in dramatic images of chest-deep water in roadways, submerged vehicles, and kayakers paddling down streets.
  9. The only COVID-19 related story to make the top 10 list was nearly a full year ago, when one of the first variants of the coronavirus emerged in January 2021. “Lamont: ‘Good Chance You’re Part of That Highly Infectious Strain,” written by Hugh McQuaid of our collaborative partner CTNewsJunkie.com, seemed to have found favor with Google and (pun intended) went somewhat viral.
  10. Rounding out the top 10 was another restaurant story. “Place 2 Be Brings Bottomless, Bathtubs, ‘Bougie’ Vibe, Revolutionary Service Approach to West Hartford Dining Scene” provided a sneak peek at the funky and fun brunch/breakfast/lunch spot Place 2 Be, which opened in June in Blue Back Square.

Actress Elizabeth Banks, who plays housewife and mother Joy Griffin in “Call Jane,” exits the Plymouth Fury after filming a scene on Spring Lane in West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

I hesitate to say I am excited to see what 2022 will bring – because I said the same thing about both 2020 and 2021. Had someone given me an advance look at what the past two years would be like, I would have found it very hard to believe.

We continue to try to find as many as possible positive “silver lining” stories to share among the difficult news and I’m sure there will be plenty of great stories to tell in 2022.I look forward to another year of bringing hyperlocal news to West Hartford!

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We-Ha.com is the place to go for the latest information about West Hartford – a town that "has it all"! We-Ha.com is part of and proud of our community, and we bring a hyperlocal focus to news and features about the people, schools, businesses, real estate, sports, restaurants, charitable events, arts, and more. Contact us at: [email protected] or [email protected].

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