Bishops Corner Blue Back Square Business Elmwood Park Road The Center

West Hartford Business Buzz: August 10, 2020

Rizzuto's has reopened in Blue Back Square with cabana-style outdoor dining. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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

By Ronni Newton

It has certainly been a week.

I usually get stressed (I should say more stressed) about work when I am getting ready to leave for vacation under normal circumstances, but then when you throw a devastating tropical storm into the mix – let’s just say that I hope to finally sleep tonight.

Millie absolutely loves the beach, and on Sunday she actually swam for the first time! Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Like many West Hartford residents, I lost power at my home, which is also my office, Tuesday afternoon. It’s kind of hard to run an online news site when you can’t be online. No electricity is one problem, but I do have quite the collection of portable power devices, including a Halo Bolt that can charge three devices at one and can jump-start a car (really, and it’s also pink-flowered). But when there is no internet, and when cell service is also sketchy due to high usage and cell towers being on generator back-up so I couldn’t use my phone as a hotspot, it’s nearly impossible to do my job.

Thankfully my daughter, who lives across town, never lost power and I am very grateful to have had a place to work Tuesday night (when I drove there in pitch black darkness, along tree-littered roadways that resulted in the need for several detours, terrified every time I arrived at a non-working traffic signal), and during the day Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I am also grateful to have had a place to stash most of our food to keep it from spoiling.

I was so excited when we got our power back Friday evening!

Like many who experienced the October 2011 snowstorm, I panic a bit when it gets really windy and there are warnings about power outages. That time we were without power for 10 days! At least this time it wasn’t cold and there was a full moon.

The power-outage related PTSD had subsided, however, and I don’t think I had taken this threat seriously enough. I headed out to do an interview Tuesday right as the tornado warning was issued, and when I drove home at around 4 p.m., all the traffic signals were out along New Britain Avenue and I saw a tree that had smashed the roof of a home.

My phone was only at 40% charge, and we didn’t have spare batteries, or ice. I’m not going to make that mistake again – at least not for several years!

I’m on Nantucket now, and feeling very lucky, and hoping to have a chance to power down a bit after going nonstop the past five months with this past week being even crazier than usual.

My team of wonderful interns, Dexter McCann and Melanie Grados, will be reporting on activities in town, and Turley CT will also be providing some backup. You’ll still see my byline, just probably on a few less stories.

Despite the storm, we had a good amount of business news this past week – some of it very good news!

And I have been saying that we need to support our local businesses as much as possible as they recover from COVID-19 –and say that now more than every because so many were forced to close for a few days last week when they lost power.

Please continue to support our local businesses, and please wear your masks if you are in public places, and stay safe and healthy.

If you have information about businesses changing their operations due to COVID-19, 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:

Rizzuto’s has reopened in Blue Back Square. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • You know if it leads this column it’s likely good news! I had been assured that Rizzuto’s was going to reopen, but when they didn’t offer takeout and the space remained dark for months after outdoor dining was permitted, I was skeptical. I was thrilled to hear that Rizzuto’s reopened on Thursday night and to confirm that information with Blue Back Square General Manager Robyn Rifkin on Friday! Over the weekend I was able to connect with owner Bill Rizzuto. “Happy, elated, excited, optimistic, these words all describe my feelings about being back!” Rizzuto said. “And back better than ever, having used the time to update our interior and execute what I think is the best designed outdoor dining which makes our guests feel comfortable and safe in their own private cabanas. Inside, we have spaced things out, too,” he said. “Yes, we have missed West Hartford, most of all our customers and the people we see every day. I am also elated to have my nephew, Sam Parkinson, join us and get involved in the restaurant. He is a great guy, and I know everyone will love meeting him,” said Rizzuto.  The restaurant has a new chef, Jason DeMarco, Rizzuto said. “He has a very strong culinary background and I am sure will create exciting new dishes while embracing and continuing those legacy dishes our customers love most.” Rizzuto’s is currently open for dinner-only Monday through Friday, and lunch as well as dinner on Saturday and Sunday. For specific hours and menu, visit their website.

    Bards logo. Courtesy of Matt Banever

  • West Hartford resident Matthew Banever – who in my mind is always one of the best-dressed guys in town, has formed his own custom clothing company – Bards – which focuses on telling “your story” and using products only made here in America. “In the midst of a global pandemic, and with disheartening news of businesses shuttering their doors, long time retailer and West Hartford resident, Matthew Banever, has merged his passion for storytelling and fine clothing into the newly formed direct selling company: Bards,” the company announced in a news release. “While the world reeled during quarantine, Matthew took the time to reflect on his career as a luxury retailer. He wanted to find a way to help tell people’s stories. When it seems like people are either lost in the bad news or aren’t being recognized in a hyper-abundant social media sphere, he wanted to focus on the individual and utilize domestic manufacturing. A people driven clothing company bolstering the local economy was the result.” Banever will come directly to you, to get to know you and your tastes, at to your home or office, and Bards offers a range of tailored clothing that includes suits, sport coats, shirts, and ties. “There have been numerous studies done connecting dressing well to creative thinking, boosted confidence, and even higher income,” Banever said.  “First impressions are made in the first 7 seconds and our pictures are easily found on a myriad of social platforms, put effort into your wardrobe, even if it’s jeans and a shirt that fits. You can control the impression you make.” You get what you pay for, and Banever isn’t hiding the fact that the clothing, which is made from high-quality materials, costs more than what you may find at a department store. “It’s price versus cost.  My price is higher but the product will last you 15 years and it is completely unique to you and your story. On the other hand, buying an inexpensive item every few years, has a compound effect on your spending and does not benefit the local economy with the same impact.” Banever said he is excited about hearing his customers’ hopes, desires, and achievements, and taking their goals and values and transforming them into top-of the line garments that “tell your story. In today’s age, the internet reigns supreme and our images are cast out for an unimaginable audience to see.  Don’t allow your personal brand to be misinterpreted. Your clothing plays a vital role in selling yourself. Our mission: Tell your story.” For more information, visit www.bardsclothing.com.

    Rendering of WeHa Brewing and Roasting. Courtesy image

  • WeHa Brewing & Roasting has been selling coffee beans and related merchandise, and is continuing to move ahead with plans to open a physical location. In a news release, WeHa Brewing & Roasting co-founder, head roaster, and CEO Cody McCormack said that the company has used the pandemic shutdown time “to develop their artisanal retail establishment: a coffee roasting company and brewery which will use its own small batch craft coffee in a variety of their beers on tap. Beers will include coffee stouts, New England india pale ales and fruited sours, among many others. Coffees blends will be named after neighborhoods and areas in West Hartford – Blue Back Blend, The Center Blend, Elmwood Blend – as well as single-origin coffees from Peru, Honduras, Colombia, Ethiopia, and others.” The intent is for the space to be a communal gathering spot at all times of day. “I live in West Hartford now and immediately fell in love with the town because of our sense of community,” said McCormack, whose nonprofit work will extend to brewhouse events for Furry Friends Foster & Rescue, Hero Boxes and Hartford Youth Services Corp., and other West Hartford non-profit organizations. The company is currently looking for additional investment, and more information can be found here.

    Backstage is now open at Macy’s at Westfarms. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • The Macy’s store at Westfarms has added a store-within-a-store. Backstage, which offers off-price designer clothing, housewares, cosmetics, accessories such as handbags, and other merchandise, has taken over 16,000 square feet of the lower level of the main Macy’s store at Westfarms. Backstage opened Saturday.
  • West Hartford’s movie theater, Cinépolis, reopens on Friday! Original plans were to reopen several weeks ago, but the company held off. Now it really is opening, as confirmed by Blue Back Square General Manager Robyn Rifkin as well as the Cinépolis website. Health and safety protocols have been implemented, include no-touch processes (buy your tickets in advance) and reconfigured spaces for greater physical distancing. Showtimes are not yet posted.

    Ron Sheffer. Courtesy photo

  • Congratulations to West Hartford resident Ron Sheffer, who has been named the executive director of Literacy Volunteers of Central CT, an organization founded in 1978 to offer free English language instruction to resident in 15 towns across the central Connecticut region, including New Britain, Middletown, Berlin, Bristol, Burlington, Cromwell, Durham, East Haddam, East Hampton, Haddam, Marlborough, Middlefield, Plainville, Portland, and Southington. Approximately 400 people per year participate in tutoring programs, which help them obtain or retain employment, enhance their English language skills, obtain citizenship, receive a GED or other professional certification, and increase involvement in their children’s educational activities. Sheffer has been working with community-based nonprofits for nearly two decades, most recently at the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project in Washington, DC, where he oversaw guided play programs with educational and therapeutic benefits for children experiencing homelessness and trauma. “I am so inspired by the New Britain community and its resilience during these extremely challenging times,” said Sheffer. “It is incredible to witness the dedication of our volunteers, students, Board of Directors, and staff to our mission of changing lives through literacy. … Literacy Volunteers has responded to the COVID-19 crisis by using innovative methods to meet the needs of our students as well as our volunteers,” Sheffer said. “I am excited to use this as an opportunity to plan ahead to the future and use technology as a way to reach even more students.” To learn more about the Literacy Volunteers program, email [email protected] or call 860-877-4701, or visit the website www.literacycentral.org.
  • I just want to give a shout-out to Annisa Teich of West Hartford Coworking, for going above and beyond during the power outage to offer free coffee and use of WiFi, as well as inexpensive single-day passes to provide members of the community with a place to be able to work, including over the weekend. The business posted the following on their Facebook page: “This is why we do what we do. I mean, sure, we are a small business and businesses need to make money … But we believe with kindness and vision the money follows. Our mission is to support our community. We do that every day – in good times and bad. This week has been … Bad … for so many. But we were ready. By offering a free place to charge, single day pass access for those that needed to work (which we had deprecated a month or so ago), and even opening [Saturday] when we are typically closed to part time and 10-day pass members on weekends, our goal is to help our community get through this current crisis and come out stronger. We don’t expect praise for it. We are in the business of being helpful. But sweet sentiments like this really make our day and confirm we are doing the right thing for the right reasons. How can we help you today neighbors?! DM us if you are still without power or a place to work in this remote world. www.westhartfordcoworking.com.
  • Now for the stories you may have missed over the past week, including the really exciting news that GastroPark is about ready to open their outdoor area to the public! Read more here.
  • Golf was one of the first activities to return after the initial COVID-19 shutdown, and tournaments have returned as well. Here are the details about the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce’s annual golf tournament.

    Lord and Taylor at Westfarms. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • There were several sad announcements last week, including that Lord & Taylor will be closing its Westfarms store. The liquidation sale is already underway. Read the full story here.
  • Also sad news: Blue Plate Kitchen in Bishops Corner will close at the end of August. Complete details can be found here.
  • And to end on a good note – Whole Foods announced last week that they will be keeping the Bishops Corner store open even after they open the Avon Village store. Read the story here.

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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