A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
By Ronni Newton
The last Monday Business Buzz of 2020 – yippee!! I think we’re all very anxious to put this year in the rearview mirror.
I hope those who celebrated Christmas, or Kwanzaa, this past weekend were able to find ways to have a wonderful and meaningful celebration despite the pandemic. Our family’s Christmas celebration looked quite different from past years, without the Christmas Eve open house we typically host for a few neighbors, close friends, and family; without in-person church; without a visit to my in-laws on Nantucket. We were, however, able to share a few great meals and continue other traditions with our immediate family, and for this year a Christmas Day Zoom had to suffice as a way to connect to the rest of the family.
The “Bah Humbug” hat I’m wearing in the photo was given to me as a joke by my son. It matches a mug I already had which was a gift a few years ago, because it’s what I say when the weather is especially cold and nasty, or when we get a (in my opinion) much-too-early-in-the-season snowfall. I really wasn’t in a bah humbug mood on Christmas Day, but I do love the hat!
I tried to shop local as much as possible this year, and that included purchasing multiple gift cards from local restaurants as part of the “West Hartford Gives” program. It’s not too late to participate since the program runs through Dec. 31. (Details can be found here.)
I received some great local gifts as well – including the assortment of West Hartford items pictured above. The cutting board and the coasters are among the items being offered by the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. The dish towels are from Cookshop Plus.
Ted and I have been doing a lot of take-out lately, but actually left West Hartford on Saturday night, and headed to Republic in Bloomfield to finally use a gift certificate that our daughter and her fiancé had given us last Christmas. We had an entire room to ourselves, and it felt very safe. The pretzel and charcuterie, pork schnitzel, and harvest turkey burger were all delicious!
I hope everyone has a safe and Happy New Year’s celebration. I feel like there is a lot to look forward to in 2021 (although I had been looking forward to many things in 2020), but we need to be sure we keep up our vigilance just a bit longer in order to fully realize those great things to come.
“It’s short-lived, because there’s this vial of hope, but we’ve got to stay strong,” Mayor Shari Cantor told me last week. She also suggested reaching out to people who may be alone or lonely, because this is a difficult time of year for people under ordinary circumstances.
We won’t publish a newsletter on Friday (New Year’s Day), and look for the annual “year in review” to highlight this Wednesday’s newsletter.
Please continue to support our local businesses, and please wear your masks if you are in public places, and stay safe and healthy.
Keeping it in the Community Tip: Home improvement businesses of all types can be found in the Design District of West Hartford.
With few exceptions, we are all spending a lot more time in our homes. In many cases, we have had to make modification to our personal space to allow for home offices, remote learning, and expanded exercise space. Whether your desired change is functional, cosmetic, or both there are many local businesses that can help you transform your interior and exterior space. The Design District of West Hartford, located on and around New Park Avenue, is the home to many construction, refurbishment, and design businesses. New appliances and furniture can also be found here. Beyond this area, West Hartford boast many other businesses around town to assist in the transformation of your “Home, Sweet Home.” The West Hartford Chamber of Commerce’s online directory (click here) is a terrific resource for finding the right local business for your project.
Keeping it in the Community Spotlight: Tile America
Tile America, a second-generation family-owned business, is one of the cornerstones of the Design District of West Hartford. The business has been in the Hartford area for 60 years, 40 of which have been in West Hartford, said Brian Knies, the owner and president of Tile America since 2005.
“Fortunately, we have been a beneficiary of the pandemic as people are spending money on improving their homes,” Knies said. “Disposable income that would have gone for vacations or other luxuries is being poured into bathroom and kitchen renovations.”
In addition, Knies noted that real estate trends spurred by the pandemic have also benefitted businesses in the construction industry.
“The influx of people moving to Connecticut from NYC has spurred a level of new home construction that we haven’t seen for some time,” he said. “Consumers are realizing the importance of beautiful spaces and investing in the environment in which they spend the most time.”
In addition to the showroom and an outlet in West Hartford, Tile America now has six other locations in Connecticut.
“I like to call Manchester, West Hartford, and Brookfield our I-84 stores and New London, New Haven, Fairfield, and Stamford our I-95 stores. Each location has a newly renovated showroom and a warehouse that stocks material for our trade customers,” Knies said.
While Tile America has experienced a boom during the pandemic, COVID-19 has also created a need to change the way certain aspects of the business operate.
Showrooms are large so capacity has not been an issue, but Knies said plexiglass partitions have been installed there and in contractor areas, and physical distancing is maintained.
“We have new cleaning procedures and samples are wiped down when they are returned. Our drivers are trained to make deliveries without interacting with anyone,” he said. “Unfortunately, we had to eliminate some of the creature comforts in our showrooms like coffee/snack sections and children’s’ play areas.”
Tile America is also relying on its website more than ever before.
“Besides implementing every safety protocol in our showrooms and contractor areas, we have invested a lot in our website to help clients start the selection process at home,” Knies said. “We have added a chat feature, appointment booking, sample ordering, and a visualizer tool that allows the client to take a photo of their space and put our floor and wall tile in it. Our website activity has almost doubled since the pandemic began. We also offer virtual consultations should someone prefer not to come in. Our design consultants have been very successful working in this manner. We’ve completed many jobs without the client stepping foot in our showroom.”
Knies said Tile America has also pivoted from traditional to digital marketing – enabling them to tailor their messages and change them more frequently as things change.
“In our commercial division, our outside sales representatives have had to get creative with calling on clients as many have not been in their offices or may not be accepting visitors,” Knies said. “Video conferencing and the old-fashioned phone call is the order of the day.”
Tile America has expanded the business this year to open outlet centers in West Hartford and New Haven – to accommodate the DIY market as well as bargain-hunters of all types.
“In addition to having special buys, we have a lot of high-end tile that we get stuck with due to a mis-shipment or canceled order,” Knies said. “We immediately heavily discount this material to move it. We have also added rigid LVT planks [vinyl flooring that looks like wood, tile, or stone] to our line-up due to its ease of installation and consumer popularity.”
Looking ahead to 2021, Knies doesn’t see a slowdown in home renovation and improvement. “We expect this trend to continue well into next year,” he said.
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:
- Business news can be tough to find during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, but we do have some very good news to share! It’s been more than 10 months since West Hartford resident Lauren Lansing shared her plans to open a franchise location for F45 Training in the former Judaica Store at 31 Crossroads Plaza in Bishops Corner, but although the pandemic had other plans that delayed things, Lansing is very excited and proud to be a woman-owned business, and to announce the grand opening was held on Saturday following a ribbon-cutting with the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Shari Cantor last week. “Mayor Cantor brought tears to my eyes (hers too), congratulating me on this achievement during the pandemic and not giving up,” Lansing said. “She talked about how we are encouraging a healthier lifestyle to the community and that meant so much to me. … We just kept moving forward with so so many setbacks and unexpected obstacles. It’s hard to believe we are finally open,” Lansing said, noting that what feels even better is that people trust that they are a safe place to work out during this difficult time. Lansing, a former a handbag designer in New York City, and parent of two elementary school age children, has been a West Hartford resident for about six years. A former high school and college multi-sport athlete, Lansing had been interested in owning her own business, and after she and her husband, Bob, visited the F45 Training location in Fairfield, they were hooked. “F” stands for “functional,” and “45” is the length of the classes. While opening a fitness studio in the midst of a pandemic is a challenge, Lansing said they have gone to great lengths to ensure the safety for all members. There are only nine members permitted to attend each class, they must be spaced at least 6.5 feet apart, and each member has their own pod, and their own equipment (no shared equipment), she said, adding the following: “Masks are required and we have some major safety procedures in place. My husband, Bob, is immune-compromised, so we have gone over and beyond to make sure the studio is completely safe for him, the staff, and members! We have the UV light installed in our HVAC system (it runs all the time, we do not turn it off), it delivers hospital grade air. The other air vent we have is outside air coming into the studio that is electric heat, so the air quality is extremely safe. We have two Medify air filters that cover 5,000 square, they run all the time (our space is 2700 square feet so we have more than enough filtration. The members all have their own sanitizer spray bottle and clean towel to use to wipe down all their equipment at the end of each class, then the trainers come through with a UV light sanitizer gun (it disinfects the entire studio and equipment with a dry disinfectant fog so the equipment is left sanitized and dry for the next class).” F45 has been open for prospective members to try it out over the past few weeks, and Lansing is thrilled with the feedback and members saying that it already feels like a community. She shared the following comments from founding member, Naiasia: “F45 West Hartford – hands down, the best gym that I’ve been a member of. The workouts make me realize that I’m capable of doing more than I think I can and with the help of the trainers, I always leave feeling accomplished! Most importantly, all of the staff are welcoming, they go above and beyond to ensure that the gym is clean before and after each class as well as ensuring all members are safe.” All members have been given a heart rate monitor chest strap (two monitors are located in the studio), hat, towel, water bottle, key chain, book bag, and high performance face mask. Free products, in COVID-safe individual packages, are located in the bathrooms and include sanitizer face mask spray, hair bands, feminine products, lotion, make up remover pads, and deodorant pads. Lansing said that F45 has an 8-week challenge coming up that anyone can sign up for without needing to be a member, and anyone can also register for a free week-long trial during which they get an InBody scan and personalized goals assessment. “We are very simple and don’t have any hidden fees to lock people in, our product speaks for itself,” said Lansing. The do not have a contract but rather a monthly billing that can be canceled at any time, with no reason required, with 14-day emailed notice. Memberships can also be paused without penalty for two months a year. While they are held in classes, Lansing said the workouts are customized. “Each member is doing their own workout – no one is doing the same thing and comparing themselves to others, no mirrors,” she said. Two trainers who are in the room add progression and modifications for each member, allowing them to meet their goals. Trainers assist members to help them understand their assessment, give them a path to achieve their goals, and check in with them periodically. For more information, visit F45 West Hartford’s website or Facebook page. Lansing is also about to open her second franchise location, in Avon, in early 2021. More photos can be found below.
- There have been a few unexpected delays, but Caribe is getting close to opening in the former Prospect Cafe location (corner of Prospect and Park Road). “We’re hoping to be open the second week of January at the latest,” Berlin Pineda, daughter of owner Milagros Pineda, advised last week. More details about Caribe can be found here.
- Congratulations to veteran TV anchor and reporter Dennis House, whom we definitely count as part of the West Hartford community (he technically lives in the West End but his kids attend school in West Hartford and during non-pandemic times he coaches in the West Hartford Youth Football League), who has revealed his next career move. “I’m excited to announce I’m returning to a business I love: television news! I’m joining WTNH, Connecticut’s ABC station as Chief Political Anchor,” House announced on social media and in his blog last week. House will be anchoring a new Sunday morning political program that will launch in 2021, as well as reporting and filling in as an anchor. The new job is in addition to his role as a Visiting Fellow in Digital Media and Communications at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, a part-time position which begins in January. House and his wife, Kara Sundlun, recently tested positive for COVID-19 and have been recovering at home. House said Sunday afternoon that his symptoms were very mild, but while Sundlun had a cough and fatigue, they are both doing better.
- Congratulations to employees of the Town of West Hartford who are celebrating milestone anniversaries. Town Manager Matt Hart said the following in an email last week: “I think we all can agree that 2020 has been like no other in history. We all had to rethink how we do business with the people we serve in West Hartford. Each of you have risen to the occasion and found new ways to function either in person or remotely. I am very proud of what we, as an organization, have achieved and I am most grateful for your talents, dedication and service.” All will receive a certificate and service pin but while the town usually holds a recognition event, this year, like most events, it had to be canceled. I’m putting the name that’s at the end first – because 40 years is a really major milestone that is being marked by Brian O’Connor, Streets Division, Public Works. Other anniversaries are: 10 Years of Service: Kyle Christian, Detective Division, Police Department; Matthew LaRiviere, Patrol Division, Police Department; Amanda Martin, Patrol Division, Police Department; Daniel Raywood, Detective Division, Police Department; and Chris Tyler, Administrative Division, Police Department. 15 Years of Service: Justin Andrews, Grounds Division, Public Works; John Cardone, Detective Division, Police Department; Melissa Cox, Emergency Reporting Center, Police Department; Fred Falcone, Building Inspection Division, Community Development Department; Brandon Lee, Professional Standards Unit, Police Department; Steven Morehouse, Detective Division, Police Department; Duane Martin, Engineering Division, Community Development Department; Aggie Monahan, Library; Daniel Morris, Fleet Division, Public Works; Raymond Narciso III, Patrol Division, Police Department; Karen Polmatier, Library; Dan Savelli, Information Technology Department; and John Winterberger, Jr., Fleet Maintenance Division, Public Works. 20 Years of Service: Marsha Adell, Fire Marshal’s Office, Fire Department; Michael Alquist, Community Relations Division, Police Department (retired); Brett Balisciano, Patrol Division, Police Department; Bob Barlow, Traffic Safety Control Division, Public Works; Mark Bassett, Fire Department; Emanuele Birritteri, Detective Division, Police Department; Gary Ciarleglio, Detective Division, Police Department; Mike Deegan, Engineering Division, Community Development Department; Kevin Foster, Fire Department; Robert Howe, III, Fire Department; Shane McAvay, Training Division, Police Department; Lynne Molloy, Records Division Police Department; Todd Myers, Professional Standards Unit, Police Department; Nelson Petrone, III, Human Resources; Jon Peyton, Grounds Division, Public Works; Penny Stankoski, Assessment Office; and Sean Walmsley, Community Support Unit, Police Department. 25 Years of Service: Helene Lefkowitz, Tax Office, Financial Services and Lisa Newton, Financial Operations Division, Financial Services. 30 Years of Service: Tracey Clonan, Accounting Division, Financial Services; Daniel Coppinger, Administration, Police Department (retired); and Larry Niland, Information Technology, Police Department. 35 Years of Service: Lane Cronin, Assistant Chiefs’ Office, Police Department and Susan Rheaume, Engineering Division, Community Development Department.
- Lord & Taylor at Westfarms is among the 18 locations nationwide that will close for good on Tuesday, Dec. 29, the company announced in an email this week. Some Lord & Taylor stores will remain open for a little while longer, the company said. Anything left is 75-90% off, but I’ve walked through the store a few times over the holidays, and I think it looks so sad I couldn’t even browse.
- I have not been able to confirm for sure, but it certainly appears as if Simple Greek in Corbin’s Corner has closed for good. A reader told me that the windows are papered over, there is no answer on the phone, and delivery services list the West Hartford location as “unavailable.”
- ICYMI, the Noah Webster House is offering an assortment of products featuring a custom-created whimsical West Hartford cityscape by artist Julia Gash. See the examples of the cutting board and coasters I received for Christmas in the intro above, and click here for more details.
- Hartford Baking Company‘s New Park Avenue location has closed, but pick-up and delivery has expanded and the space is being transitioned into Citizen Chicken and Donuts. Click here for the complete story.
- We’ve got good news about F45 as the lead story of this column, but things have been tough for businesses in the fitness industry. Reporter Kristina Vakhman spoke to some fitness and yoga studio owners about how they are getting creative and surviving. Read that 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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