In this five-part series, leaders of local business and neighborhood associations have a chance to talk about what they love about West Hartford.
By Lisa Lelas, as seen in West Hartford Magazine, Issue 1, 2015
Photos by Todd Fairchild/ShutterbugCT.com
Even if you didn’t grow up here, it’s impossible to miss the many positive changes that have come to West Hartford over the past few years.
The cornerstones for a significant part of that metamorphosis are West Hartford’s four strong business associations that have nurtured, encouraged, and served as the foundation for change and development: West Hartford Center Business Association, Elmwood Business Association, Park Road Association and Bishops Corner Neighborhood Association. And alongside them all the way is the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce.
We-Ha.com will spotlight each association in this weekly five-part series, and this is the second installment. Click here to read about the West Hartford Center Business Association.
Dr. Rick Liftig is a local dentist in the center of Elmwood. He has been the president of the Elmwood Business Association for the past 15 years.
“The original association began in the 1950s, post WWII when soldiers were coming back home. Business growth lasted about 15 to 20 years. Then, with the influence of national chain stores moving in, people began to retreat and the business association became dormant for about 30 years. Eventually groups of ‘charettes’ were assigned for businesses and for citizens (groups designed to help people decide where to go in a series of meetings over 6 months to a year). Out of this, the core business group became reinvigorated,” Rick explained.
The Elmwood Business Association was back up and running circa 2000, with Rick steering the ship as its president.
“We have about 30 members, but of course, there are many more businesses in the area. You have to understand that many small business owners don’t always join or have the extra time to get involved. We meet monthly, with very informative discussions.”
Rick admits that the growing success of their association comes largely as a result of borrowing ideas from another business association in town. “Actually, we have come to model our structure after the Park Road Association (from John Paindiris and Tracy Flater). Like them, we started a large community outreach effort, we got a lot of information out to the public, we have a representative from the police department for regular police reports/updates on our community, we discuss and try to solve any challenges that come up for our members, and we plan terrific community events each year such as A Taste of Elmwood.”
Along with the resurrection of a viable business association, it appears that the original beauty of the Elmwood area has also returned.
“It was the culmination of many small changes over the years that added up to a big change,” said Rick. “It certainly wasn’t overnight.” From transforming an old school building into beautiful condos, to upgrading many retail storefronts for fresh, modern appeal, the “frosting on the cake,” as Rick put it, “was the refurbishment of New Britain Avenue as a whole. All of a sudden you looked around and said, ‘Wow, this place really has changed!’ It’s really been a joint effort between the town residents, businesses and even the state, over the years.”
And another thing Rick and the entire community are proud of … the trees are back!
“We’ve replaced a lot of asphalt with trees. And, a lot of elm trees too! Tree-lined streets are a beautiful feature right through our community center.”
Rick actually planted the first elm tree on the Elms Green back in 2007 and the tree-planting effort has been going strong ever since.
Current shopping trends in the area have assisted with Elmwood’s sudden business boom. “As the center of town becomes more congested and pricey, we are seeing the Elmwood area as an alternative. More and more restaurants are coming in. The economy is better now. We have a tremendous support system in place for small business owners in this community. Elmwood offers business owners a great location!”
And Rick said that there is something very unique about West Hartford as a whole. “While nobody has a crystal ball for the future, we all know that West Hartford, by nature, keeps reinventing itself. Residents in this town really like shopping local. It’s a hometown that people like coming back to and it’s also a great place to start living in the town. Helping with affordability, you can walk to Elmwood center. There’s good mobility in town.”
And the cherry on top? “We are anticipating amazing growth in the future,” Rick said excitedly. “Honestly, we were all very surprised about the new CTfastrak bus route (New Britain to Hartford). We were all initially against it, but surprisingly it has spawned a new interest. With that, there is confidence that it will springboard into a whole new train-line from New Haven to Hartford, with an Elmwood stop. There is a whole corridor of old factories and abandoned buildings for the past 15 to 20 years that will surely come alive again with an active train stop right here in this part of the community. The whole area has really morphed into the future. I remember we started with sharing our dreams at an association meeting years ago, each of us sharing how we’d love to see this or that happen in the future. I look back now and say, ‘Holy cow … dreams really come true!’”