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 five-part series, and this is the third installment. Click here to read about the West Hartford Center Business Association or Elmwood Business Association.
The Park Road Association
Johnny Paindiris and Tracy Flater are names most locals know very well, and that’s indicative of their community involvement.
Johnny is the owner of Effie’s Place Restaurant and Tracy is the founder of Playhouse on Park theater. Together they have stepped into the role of co-presidents of the Park Road Association.
As Johnny explains, “We no longer call it a ‘business’ association. We changed our title a few years back. Our goal is to attract more residential members from the stigma of an all-business association. It’s our goal to really start growing the membership.”
“There are about 20 members,” adds Tracy. “Johnny & I are newbees. We took over the association in September. We haven’t yet had a formal membership drive. We meet at Playhouse on Park, the third Friday of every month (except August) at 8 a.m. The meetings are open to everyone. Usually about 20-40 people attend. Different people may come at any time. Our database is hundreds of businesses and residential neighbors, but you have to keep in mind that there are a lot of small business and retail shop owners who can’t leave their business to always come to the meetings.”
Back in 1991, the association was started by several prominent business people in town. Founders of the association include Pat Daly, Angelo Faenza (first president), and Richard Patrissi (vice president).
“My father was involved, too,” says Johnny. “Unfortunately, crime was growing at that time in this area. They found that having this association as part of the Chamber would provide residents and business owners with a voice to town officials and the police department.”
“When I first co-founded the theater (it was under different ownership) in June 2009, we created a brand new non-profit theater company. Richard and Angelo, at the time, were very much engaged in helping me make my decision of taking over that empty theater space,” says Tracy. “Their care was prevalent. I was invited to participate in meetings right away. They were instrumental in helping me network to meet people in the community and financially support my decision. Part of the reason I decided to jump in and help out on as an association leader was to ‘give back’!”
“And the Association has been just as helpful to me over the years,” adds Johnny.
“Effie’s Place Restaurant has been on Park Road for 25 years. I was a young kid when I started getting involved in our family business. I knew a lot of the town’s people from the restaurant. That’s been very rewarding to me over the years, but being a part of this Association proved to be invaluable … for gathering news and information about happenings in the town, networking, public relations, and more. The Association is great for new businesses in the neighborhood needing advice or help. It’s an opportunity to really meet key people who can help you in the future, such as the mayor, public works people, and the chief of police.”
Tracy explains, “Currently, we are re-evaluating and formulating our membership and our website presence. We now have a strong Facebook presence with a solid connection to the town.”
The leaders are fully aware that their association has been an inspiration to others.
“We’ve been a model for the Elmwood Association. They saw the value of having the residents of the town and local business owners come together with regular meetings,” said Johnny. “When Park Road underwent a huge construction project in 1997 (building a new road, sidewalks, etc.) business owners wanted to know how long their businesses would be affected, so they started a monthly meeting just for construction updates. Public safety is our top priority at the Park Road Association. We always have reps from planning and zoning, police department, local politicians, and so on.”
And much to the delight of local businesses and residents alike, the Park Road area is literally booming!
“A lot of people recognize Park Road now and want to have their business located here. It’s a friendly neighborhood, a real viable business option.” Johnny states.
Tracy agrees. “I’ve only seen really positive growth. All changes here have been for the better. People come from Hartford and surrounding towns to our restaurants and businesses. There’s more and more desire to be here and better quality restaurants coming in.”
Noting the change, Johnny remembers, “at one time there may have only been three to four restaurants. Now there are probably two dozen!”
And more exciting news keeps coming. The co-presidents are anticipating many more residents moving into the area as 300-400 new apartments are planned for the Sisters of St. Joseph’s property.
“We’re working really hard in marketing right now to become a unified neighborhood. The Park Road area is a great cross market of residential and business. We want, and are establishing, a great presence like The Center has,” says Johnny.
Annual events are part of the process and they are working to establish to continue to boost the sense of community.
The Park Road Parade was originally started to celebrate reconstruction on the street 15 years ago, and the Celebrity Breakfast, held every June, is the biggest fundraiser for the parade. “Local business owners are invited to my restaurant to serve breakfast and we donate 100 percent of the proceeds to the parade fund,” Johnny explains.
“And we are always looking for new ideas,” says Tracy. “Watch for more Park Road events coming soon. We’re about to announce some new and exciting initiatives … so stay tuned!”