Bishops Corner Blue Back Square Business Elmwood Park Road The Center

West Hartford Business Buzz: April 9, 2018

SPoT Coffee is preparing for a soft opening in Blue Back Square on April 17. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.

By Ronni Newton

I could almost copy what I wrote last week about Mother Nature and her April Fool’s jokes, because it seems like winter just won’t quit.

April 8 daffodil check – almost in full bloom despite battling several bouts of snow. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The photo at right, however, does make me smile and give me hope.

It’s school vacation week, and looking at my Facebook feed I see that many of you are visiting tropical places where it definitely won’t be snowing. Please bring that weather back with you!

This may be a quieter week in West Hartford since many are on break, but last week was anything but quiet.

On Tuesday, more than 50 people participated in a community read of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. The audience of about 250 had a chance to engage in a “beloved community” intergenerational art project, before listing raptly to the program.

Later Tuesday night the Board of Education passed its budget, which now moves to the Town Council for adoption as part of the overall general fund budget.

On Wednesday night the Town Council held the first of two public hearings on the budget. It was sparsely attended, and many took to social media the next day to complain that they didn’t know it was happening. I make sure to include details about all public hearings in every budget story. The town budget impacts each and every resident, and it’s important to stay informed. I don’t know how else to serve up the information, and it’s disappointing to see that more people read the real estate transactions I posted last week than the story about the budget. There is one more public hearing and (I am about to shout) IT’S ON WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11, AT 2 P.M. IN THE TOWN COUNCIL CHAMBERS, ROOM 314. If you can’t make it but have something to say, email or call Town Council members. All of the contact information is available by clicking here. And if you’re wondering why the hearing is at 2 p.m., that’s to accommodate people who don’t like to go out at night. The other hearing was at 6 p.m.

I’ll get down off my soapbox now, but before getting to the business of this column, I want to give a very special shout out to my friend and (now former) fellow journalist, Abigail Albair. Friday was her last day as editor of the West Hartford Press (and as executive editor with Turley Publications), and today she begins a new job leading the marketing and development team at a Connecticut nonprofit. I’ve really enjoyed our collaboration, her aptness for writing about government meetings (and willingness to share those stories with We-Ha.com), and the friendship that we have developed covering this town together over the years. And I’ve loved watching her adorable and precocious son Leo, who is about to be 2, turn into such a great little man. She’s a great journalist, and even a better person, and I wish her the best of luck!

If you have tips about businesses opening or closing, or doing something worth sharing, please provide that information in the comments or email Ronni Newton at [email protected].

Here’s this week’s Buzz:

Loren Costantini painted this mural inside SPoT Coffee, and every element is significant to West Hartford or the surrounding area. “SPoT Coffee” is located in the purple eye on the left, and the white lines are the streets of Blue Back Square. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Sometimes the lead stories for this column are planned out well in advance, and other times I stumble upon them almost by accident. I was searching for a nice surprise for readers on Friday, taking a drive in the snow (!), and decided to cruise by SPoT Coffee in Blue Back Square (69 Memorial Rd.). I had heard they were supposed to open any day, but no one I knew had many details, or had seen the inside. Low and behold the door was unlocked, so of course I went inside for a sneak peek. Manager Graciela Garcia was so friendly and outgoing, and is extremely excited about the imminent opening. SPot will have a soft opening on April 17 and 18 (open from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. those days) and then have its official opening on Thursday, April 19, with hours that day and going forward from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Garcia, who formerly worked locally at Starbucks (she was assistant manager at the LaSalle Road location) and Burger King, said she has has been training in Buffalo and Saratoga. “I’m very excited to open here. This is going to be a great location,” she said. The quality of the coffee is excellent, she said, and is roasted in small batches. Both breakfast and lunch/dinner are served all day, and it’s reasonable. She said a full meal, with sandwich, salad and/or chips, and a drink, is about $10-$15. Garcia said her menu favorites include the spicy tuna wrap and pesto chicken panini, and there are also a variety of salads, eggs dishes, pizzas, and blender drinks. SPoT has seating for about 100 people, at a mix of comfy couches and chairs, tables, with some surrounding a double-sided fireplace. In the back, there’s a longer table with benches, which Garcia said is intended for larger groups of people who might want to use the space (there’s free wifi) for a meeting. There’s a fabulous and colorful mural on one wall, specially commissioned for the cafe and painted by Loren Constantini. If you look closely at the purple eye of the person in the center of the mural, you will note that it says “SPoT Coffee,” and the white lines are actually the roads through Blue Back and the surrounding area. Other important figures in West Hartford and the state are also depicted in the mural, and the frame is constructed from wood remnants from meaningful places. The mural is going to have to be the subject of its own story, and I’ll also write a complete story about the restaurant, with food photos of course, once it’s open. Garcia said that SPoT currently employs 12 people, and she’s still hiring. More photos can be found below.
  • Had I not visited SPoT Coffee, I could have pretty much written this entire column about Elmwood. I attended the Elmwood Business Association meeting on Friday morning at the Corner Pug, and heard some great updates, including several items I hadn’t mentioned yet. A few that will get their own stories include the return of the Knox Foundation planters to Elmwood thanks to the organizational efforts of Charlie and Pam Hilborn and Sheehan-Hilborn-Breen Funeral Home, and the near completion of the 616 New Park apartments. A lease for half of the 3,000 feet of commercial space on the ground floor will be signed shortly, Economic Development Specialist Kristen Gorski reported. Director of Community Development Mark McGovern reported that eight town homes are being built at the corner of South Quaker Lane and Talcott Road.

    Developer Joe Calafiore shows attendees at the Elmwood Business Association sketches of a project he would like to build at the corner of New Britain Avenue and Berkshire Road. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • This is still preliminary, but at the Elmwood Business Association meeting business owner and West Hartford resident Joe Calafiore presented plans to develop 26 luxury apartments (mostly two-bedroom/two-bath units) on several parcels at the northeast corner of Berkshire Road and New Britain Avenue. He said the complex of three buildings would include an electric car charging station and workout facilities. The development would bring in about $100,000 in tax revenue, he estimated. The property is currently zoned for single-family housing, so any plans would require a zoning change and Town Council approval.
  • Susan Forrester is excited about plans to move her business, Forrester Lactation, to new office space at 485 New Park Ave., in the space vacated when Kim Green moved Zen and Now Vintage Boutique and her meditation studio to larger space downstairs. I’ve mentioned many times that I think the former 1903 ball bearing factory is one of the coolest buildings in West Hartford, and Forrester said she was attracted to the “urban, gritty feel” of the space, that she added is 85 percent leased by women. It’s home to businesses like New Park Brewing, Blaze & Bloom, A Little Something Bakery, and numerous others. As a lactation consultant, Forrester usually makes house calls, but having larger office space will allow clients to visit her there if they choose, and will also provide space for classes like prenatal breastfeeding and support group meetings. She’s holding an Open House on Sunday, April 15, from 1-4 p.m., and said you don’t have to be breastfeeding or an expectant mother to visit! There will be snacks (including cupcakes from A Little Something Bakery) and wine, she said.
  • Congratulations to Tracey Hollerbach, West Hartford resident and realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in West Hartford Center. She recently won the International President’s Circle Award, which is given to the top 5 percent of sales associates nationwide!
  • Congratulations also to Aaron Bohigian, chairman of the Programs and Professional Development Committee for FLOW (Future Leaders of West Hartford), and associate relationship manager with Webster Bank, on being named 2018 Financial Services Champion by the Small Business Association. “We are extremely excited to honor a truly amazing line up of small business owners and champions this year, said Anne Hunt, SBA’s Connecticut District Director in a news release. “It is important to recognize these outstanding small businesses in the state as they are the job creators, innovators and the fabric of our local communities! We hope the small business community will join the SBA and our host, SCORE for an inspiring awards luncheon on May 3 in New Haven, CT.” 
  • A start-up company that just moved to West Hartford is using improv as a way to help clients build courage, confidence, and spontaneity as a means to improving leadership and teamwork. The Bolder Company, which recently moved into space at 967 Farmington Ave., which they share with Fathom and West Hartford Co-Working, was founded by Ellen Feldman Ornato (a West Hartford native who now lives in Middletown) and Jenny Drescher from Canton. “Most people have seen comedy improv performances on TV, theaters or comedy clubs,” said Ornato in a news release. “We’ve learned that people can use applied improvisation in personal and business situations to solve problems, create new pathways for action, and improve relationships.” The Bolder Company has fully developed programs in effective listening and communication, presentation and public speaking, emotional intelligence, unconscious bias, and more. “We pack a lot of levity and energy into our training,” Drescher said. “We challenge people to look at themselves in different ways, to develop qualities that they may never have exercised. It’s completely experiential so growth and awareness is accelerated.” For information about upcoming public events and workshops visit TheBolderCompany.com.
  • If you have a chance to head down to Fairfield County, West Hartford resident and longtime Hall art teacher (30-plus years) Rob Loebell has an exhibit which opens at the Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan (1037 Silvermine Rd.) on April 22, and runs through May 19. Loebell says this about his exhibit: “Photographs are flat representations of the three-dimensional world. They freeze a moment in time, and capture a specific place, activity, person or group. In these relief carvings, I return black and white photographs to three dimensions. These sculptures reference home and travel and the frozen moments I’ve captured moving through environments not my own. In a two step process, I begin by taking hundreds of pictures and then curating them into a story in images. These images are then returned to three dimensions in carved collages. The pieces are carved, burned and painted to suggest their sources – black and white photographs – but they are not reproductions. Through this transformation, the photographs become more abstract, and hopefully, thereby, more universal. They are softer edged, more like memories than decipherable events. The sculptures re-imagine the fixity or flexibility of time by swapping the original medium for wood, and then recreating the images themselves into a new form.”
  • If you enjoyed We-Ha-HA, or if you were sad to have missed the comedy show on March 27, you’ll be excited to hear that by popular demand, We-Ha-HA is going to be a regular thing! On the last Tuesday of April, May, and June (at least), Paul Gregory will bring a line-up of comedians to World of Beer in Blue Back Square. Look for details on We-Ha.com and on West Hartford Magazine’s Facebook page.

    Christine Bromberg. Submitted photo

  • Congratulations to West Hartford resident and Robinson + Cole lawyer Christine E. Bromberg who was recently appointed to the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Foundation. According to a news release, Bromberg is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Tax Group, where she represents clients in connection with a broad range of federal income tax matters.
  • Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made quite a few judicial nominations last week, with a number of West Hartford residents among the nominees. On Tuesday, Barbara Aaron and Joseph Schwartz were both nominated to fill Superior Court vacancies, and later that day, resident Ingrid Moll was nominated for an Appellate Court judgeship. Malloy made further Superior Court judicial nominations on Thursday, including James Sicilian of West Hartford. Sicilian, a graduate of Bucknell University and the University of Connecticut School of Law, is General Counsel for the law firm of Day Pitney LLP in Hartford – a position he has held since 2014. 
  • I’ve had a number of people ask me what’s going on with Tapas in Elmwood, which has been closed for the past several days. I’ve tried to call but only get a recording that “the Verizon customer you called was not available,” and when I called the Bloomfield location, the person who answered the phone told me that it’s closed due to “a technical difficulty.” He said it was a “temporary closing,” but would not or could not provide any more specifics when asked for clarification. I’ll continue to try to find out, but if anyone knows more, please let me know!
  • Finally, ICYMI, congratulations to resident and volunteer extraordinaire Ronit Shoham. I’ve always thought she was amazing, but now she is being recognized as one of the Malta House of Care’s seven 2018 “Wonder Women.” So deserved!

Remember, if you have any business news to share, add it in the comments section below or email Ronni Newton at [email protected].

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SPoT Coffee’s menu includes breakfast options as well as lunch/dinner fare, and the entire menu will be available all day. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A long table with bench seating will be a good space for meetings at SPoT Coffee in West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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  • When is “Rock Voices” performing at First Church this month and where can we buy tickets? Prices?

    I believe its April 29th.

    Fantastic concerts 2x per year. It’s a great group to do a story about!

  • Tapas Elmwood followed a number of short lived restaurants in that space and became one of the longest operating (non-pizza) restaurants in town. The Fernwood, Quaker Diner, and Sally and Bob’s are the only ones that pre-date Tapas.

    I hope they reopen.

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