A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
By Ronni Newton
I know this is a local publication, but what happened at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday is something that impacts every single one of us. I am completely at a loss for words to express the horror, anger, sadness, disappointment, terror, disbelief, and so many other feelings I experienced as I watched insurgents storm into the Capitol.
Nothing I say will be strong enough, but it’s not enough to say nothing at all.
The summer between my junior and senior year of college I worked on Capitol Hill as an intern for my congressman. Our offices were in Cannon House Office Building, and for a portion of the summer I lived on East Capitol Street.
I walked the short six blocks to work each morning with the Capitol building in my view the entire time. It was decades ago, but I can never and will never forget the awe I felt as I gazed ahead at that marble edifice, that embodiment of our democracy. As a student of political science and economics, to me the Capitol was THE center of what I thought was the most important place in the world, the place where decisions were made that shaped not only our country’s future but had a major impact on a global scale.
For more than a decade, until I moved to West Hartford in 1998, I worked in Washington, DC, just a few blocks from the White House. It’s turned into a very different place than it was back then.
As a member of the media, I’ve always felt that I could be safe, that my press pass would protect me as someone who is reporting the truth in an objective and impartial way. After seeing, hearing, and reading about what happened to members of the media covering the Capitol, that confidence is gone. While I’m not really worried about covering events in West Hartford, I will definitely be more wary.
To say I hope nothing like Wednesday ever happens again sounds trite. I think back to my studies of the social contract years ago, to Martin Luther King’s teachings about civil disobedience. A line was definitely crossed Wednesday, and I hope the strength of our democracy – and the leaders we elect along with “we the people” – will rebuild it and that the respect most of us have for the tenets of our democracy will prevail.
On Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 6 p.m., John Lyons and I will hold a Facebook Live roundtable discussion featuring Prof. Matt Warshauer focused on constitutional issues, with topics to impeachment, censure, and invocation of the 25th Amendment. We have invited a legal expert to join us as well. Watch for information on the We-Ha.com Facebook page.
This week’s brief personal notes: I was so excited when my daughter sent me a photo of her holding her Vaccination Record Card. She got the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday. My dad, who is living in a nursing home in Florida, was also vaccinated this past week.
On the COVID-19 front, that gives me cause for hope.
We’re trying hard not to repeat places and at the same time get three people to agree on what they want to eat, so for this week’s restaurant visit, Ted, Sam, and I ordered from Joey’s Pizza Pie – which satisfied Ted’s desire for a calzone, Sam’s craving for pasta, and my wish to have something relatively light after having done a “white out” cleanse last week (eliminating all sugar, white flour, dairy, added salt, and alcohol).
While Ted ate that entire calzone, Sam could only eat half of his linguini with Bolognese, and I have more than half of the chicken pesto pizza left over.
All very yummy!
Keeping it in the Community
Today’s Keeping it in the Community feature doesn’t spotlight a particular business, but rather sheds light on many of the challenges and concerns that our local restaurant have been facing.
On Friday, the Chamber of Commerce and Town of West Hartford Economic Development Department, with which I collaborate for the weekly tip and spotlight, hosted a roundtable forum that included three restaurant owners, Connecticut’s two U.S. senators, and all four members of the town’s delegation to the state legislature, as well as Mayor Shari Cantor.
Chip Kohn of Beachland Group, Tiffany Nguyen of Pho 135, and Johnny Paindiris of Effie’s Place were open and honest, shared their fears about keeping their businesses going amid the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, their fears about the massive amount of debt they have had to take on, their fears for their employees, and their fears for how long it may take before consumers will regain confidence for dining at restaurants.
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:
- The smoothie shop and juice bar Overflow just opened Dec. 19 in Bishops Corner (2527 Albany Ave., southwest corner shopping center, in the strip of storefronts that faces Albany Avenue), and I stopped by for a visit on Friday afternoon and had a chance to meet Erika Bentsen, who co-owns the shop with Ashley Bell and Shawna Macsuga – all three of whom are former teachers. She said they saw the potential for following their dreams, and decided to take the leap to open the business. They actually signed the lease last March, Erika said, “and then the world shut down.” While the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the opening, she said they were perfecting their recipes and were making their shakes and teas elsewhere and donating them to teachers and other essential workers. Erika had previously worked at a smoothie shop in Avon, and she said the mission of what they are doing is “to make everyone happier and healthier, to spread positivity in the community. … Everyone should be happier walking out than they were walking in.” Every drink gets a positive message written on the side of the cup, she said. The beverages (see menu and additional photos below) include a wide variety of flavors, and Erika said even those that don’t sound particularly healthy (their top sellers are peanut butter cup, birthday cake, and Oreo ice cream) are packed with nutrition. All are low calorie (200 calories for a 16-ounce shake and 300 for a 24-ounce shake) and are high protein, low carbohydrate, low sugar, and contain 21 vitamins and minerals. Protein powder and meal replacement powder are used as the base, she said. Many are vegan, and even those that are not marked vegan are less than 1% dairy. Many of the choices are gluten free as well. The name “Overflow” was chosen because it connotes thoughts of “overflowing with gratitude” or “my cup overflows,” Erica said. “We absolutely fell in love with this plaza, this location,” Erica said of the Bishops Corner space. “We’re really excited.” In addition to the Overflow, the three also own Soul Nutrition, which opened in Old Saybrook in June.
- The interior of the former Hartford Baking Company space at 625 New Park Ave. is in the process of being transformed to Citizen Chicken and Donuts, and owner Scott Kluger has announced the hiring of a noted and exceptionally talented executive chef: Van Hurd, of “Hell’s Kitchen” fame. “I am very excited to join the crew from Hartford Baking Company and to open up Citizen Chicken and Donuts, bringing my experience and southern charm to West Hartford. Wooooooo!” Hurd said in a written statement. Citizen should be ready to open this month, and you can find more details about the “donuts by day, chicken by night” restaurant here.
- The Second Chance Shop, a mission of the Village for Families and Children, is celebrating its second anniversary at 175 Park Road on Jan. 16. Like many retailers, the Second Chance Shop closed when the pandemic hit in March, and since reopening in June has been working hard to get its customer traffic back. Lately they have been doing better, said Jill Scully, who co-chairs the Second Chance with Carol Waxman. “People are thrifting,” said Scully, visiting the antique and second hand shops along Park Road, like White Rabbit, Panache, and Stay on Park, that are cross promoting each other’s businesses. Everyone involved with the shop is a volunteer, Scully said, and now that they have enough volunteers the shop is open Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Donations – including designer clothing and estate jewelry, have been brisk, but “we need more customers,” said Anne Nance, one of the volunteers. “We are very safe here,” Scully said, with hand sanitizer stations throughout, restricted flow of traffic, dedicated separate entrance and exit, and a limit to the number of people who are permitted in the store. Clothes are quarantined after they are tried on, and only one dressing room is open at a time and is sanitized after use. Clothes that are donated, which are stored in the basement along with off-season items and things that can’t fit on the sales floor, are set aside for 48 hours until volunteers are permitted to touch them. The shop sells clothing and shoes for women and men, books, jewelry, watches (Lux Bond helps out by providing the Second Chance Shop with new batteries free of charge), accessories, and housewares. “Anything without a plug, and we don’t take children’s clothes,” Scully said. The window displays and merchandise arrangements are changed monthly, to keep things fresh. “We’re more of a thrift boutique than a thrift shop,” she said, with prices the same or better than Savers or Goodwill, but high end items. “We have amazing men’s items,” Nance added, with many of the shirts from Brooks Brothers. There is women’s designer clothing as well, from designers like Armani and St. John. Because a second anniversary celebration won’t really be possible, those who shop on Jan. 16 will receive a discount coupon. All proceeds go back to the Village, Scully said. In the first six months, they netted $30,000, but in the most recent year, Scully said, “it’s embarrassing.” Most of what was earned had to be held back to pay rent, utilities, and insurance, just to stay in business. The basement, where the donations are initially stored and then sorted, also has bags of items that are donated to other organizations. Scully said some of the children’s clothing, small appliances, and anything dirty or ripped gets donated to Savers – and whatever they can’t use is recycled. Some of the children’s clothing also goes to the Village’s family center, Scully said. Metal is also recycled, Nance added. “We pass as much forward as we can. We throw very little away,” Scully said. For photos of the interior, see below.
- Arugula Bistro (953 Farmington Ave.) will be closed for the rest of the month, but it’s definite a temporary closure. “I always planned to do this in January and here we are!” owner Christiane Gehami said in a message regarding the plans to renovate the kitchen floors. “If anyone has any questions, they can reach me on my cell, 860-982-5827,” she added.
- Longtime West Hartford business owner Bob Barrieau of Barrieau Oil Co. has retired and has sold his business to to Tower Energy, owned by Nick Scata and Jerry Greco. Over the years, Barrieau had acquired The James O’Toole Company, Ney Plumbing and Heating, and The Wm A. Murray Company, which are all now part of Tower Energy.
- Marketing Solutions Unlimited, LLC, a full-service printing, direct mail and fulfillment company based in West Hartford, has acquired Newington-based Paladin Commercial Printers, the company announced last week in a news release. “The enhanced print capabilities and the expansion of our in-house direct mail team created by this merger allows us to increase our speed of delivery of clients projects, expand our sales team, and add to the talent of our current production capabilities,” said Marketing Solutions Unlimited Founder and CEO Heidi Buckley. “We are thrilled to have this opportunity. Combined, the two companies have 60 years industry experience delivering exceptional service to our clients. It is truly a win-win for both companies.” Marketing Solutions Unlimited brings 29 years of expertise serving clients that focus in the healthcare, higher education, non-profit, and political industries. Paladin, with 31 years in business, focuses on services for ad agencies, financial and manufacturing as well as non-profits. “The two companies are an absolute complement to each other,” Buckley added. As part of the acquisition, both locations will remain open. There are 30 employees between the two companies; no staff reductions are planned. “We saw Paladin as a three-fold opportunity: our client portfolios are complementary; the additional talent and equipment of Paladin significantly expand our production capabilities; the proximity of our two facilities allow for both synergy and depth”, added Eric Pritchard, Marketing Solutions Unlimited’s President. “The opportunity to leverage the expertise of both teams will deliver an enhanced experience for our clients, secure new prospects, and increase the opportunity for the combined teams to grow.”
- Citizen’s Oil Co-op recently organized a campaign encouraging existing members to refer a friend to the Co-op in an effort to raise money for a Connecticut food pantry. Members responded, and Citizen’s Oil Co-op reported that it was proud to donate $600 to the West Hartford Food Pantry to help those in need during a difficult year. “It would be wonderful if you could continue to spread the word about the tremendous need of the Food Pantry.” said a grateful Nancy Stockman, Food Pantry Coordinator. The Citizen’s Oil Co-op, which was established in 1981, partners with local businesses and works to save its members money on home heating oil as well as propane. For more information about the Co-op, visit oilco-op.com or call 860-561-6011. To make a donation to the Food Pantry, send checks to The Town That Cares, West Hartford Social Services, 50 South Main Street, Rm 130, West Hartford, CT 06107.
- Props to the Buena Vista Property Owners Association, which collected items for the Salvation Army and West Hartford Food Pantry during an association holiday drive. “Our deepest thanks and gratitude to BVPOA Board members David Kaplan and Cheryl MacKenzie for their tireless efforts,” BVPOA President Sherry Haller said. She provided the photo of the donations ready to be delivered.
- West Hartford Coworking has launched a new program at WHCowork Today. “This latest program was developed to give COVID-era college students the space and support they need to succeed,” space and support that can be a good substitute for conducting remote learning from a childhood bedroom or writing a doctoral dissertation at the dining room table, West Hartford Coworking owner Annisa Teich said. Visit the West Hartford Coworking Facebook page for more details, and to view a webinar presentation about the program that was released last week.
- ICYMI, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy visited Fleet Feet Sports in West Hartford last week to speak with owner Stephanie Blozy about her challenges with COVID-19 and to provide details about the latest PPP loans available. Click here for the full story.
- Kingswood Oxford School announced last week that it plans to sell the property that is currently the site of the Children’s Museum, which may expedite the departure of the Museum from town. Click here for full details.
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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