A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
Business Buzz is sponsored by NBT Bank, and we are very thankful for their support!
By Ronni Newton
Happy New Year, and welcome to this rare Wednesday edition of Business Buzz – with the column returning after probably its longest hiatus ever! Since the past two Mondays were holidays, and there really wasn’t much business news taking place between Christmas and New Year’s, I skipped last week.
Having a break from writing this column, and finally having a few days with very little happening in town, was a great respite for me. Christmas with our new grandbaby (and the rest of the family) was so joyful, and we also spent a few days in Nantucket just before New Year’s, which was probably Millie’s favorite part of the holiday season.
I am rejuvenated about the start of the new year – which will be We-Ha.com’s 10th anniversary!
It’s hard to take breaks from this column, which I do enjoy writing even though it often takes me many more hours than you could imagine. I do love the opportunity to write in first person, and readers seem to like Business Buzz. When I compiled my annual “top stories” post for 2023, I wasn’t necessarily surprised that Business Buzz was overall the top category, but I was surprised that four columns on their own were among the top 10 stories!
Because it’s been so long since a column has appeared, I have a bunch of food photos to share. (I can see my husband cringing as he reads this, because while Ted is very patient with my taking photos before allowing him to have a bite of his dinner (I have learned to be very quick) he will tell anyone who listens that not only does he not want his food to get cold, he also hates pictures of food.
Dinners we enjoyed included a meal at Trumbull Kitchen (first time either of us had been there) before a fantastic performance of “Christmas on the Rocks” at TheaterWorks, ramen yumminess at Kaliubon Ramen on a chilly Saturday night just before Christmas, and great food (and company) on New Year’s Eve with Jeannette Dardenne and her family at Birdie Lounge.
I’ll leave out the photos of the many cookies and other less-than-healthy foods I have consumed over the past few weeks, but I will include this photo of our traditional New Year’s good luck food – Texas caviar. Years ago a former co-worked got us hooked on the southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year’s Day, and while we have prepared them in different ways, Texas caviar (with tortilla chips, of course) has become family favorite.
If you’re looking for news about West Hartford in print please note that many stories from We-Ha.com, as well as other local news, is published in the twice-monthly issues of the West Hartford Press.
If you have information to share about local businesses, please provide details in the comments or email Ronni Newton at [email protected].
Here’s this week’s Buzz:
- Muse Paintbar has relocated within Blue Back Square from the previous location at 69 Memorial Road, and as of Friday, Jan. 5 has will be open to the public in its new and much larger spot at 77 Isham Road in a portion of what was formerly Charming Charlie. The vibrant interior is highlighted by murals, gallery space, and a funky retro electric stripe on the outside carries through to the interior decor. The former studio was 1,822 square feet, and the new space is 3,12o square feet, said Karrie Whisler, senior creative director with Muse Paintbar, which limited not only the number of people who can attend events, but also the number of events which could take place at the same time. The previous location had two rooms – a main room with 48 seats and a private room with 18 seat, but the new space has three rooms – a main room with 58 seats as well as two private rooms, one which seats 30 and the other which seats 18. “Some days we have multiple events people can choose from,” said Whisler, and the separate rooms will allow for more variety and the ability to accommodate people of all ages. While all events include painting, they range from date nights, to kids’ birthday parties, to corporate outings, to bachelorette parties, and more. Traditionally everyone in a room is working on their interpretation of the same image, but Whisler said they also host “paint your pet” nights where people send in photos of their own pets in advance and staff artists guide guests in the use of backlit art painting technology to allow a completely unique painting to be created. “I’m just wowed by the amount of space in the new build-out,” said Whisler. “We have a lot of fun theme nights on the horizon,” she said, noting that previous theme nights have been fright nights in October, Friendsgiving Fridays in November, and ugly sweater nights in December. The January calendar includes a fun female musician series with Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Taylor Swift. Painting experiences include food and drink – with a bar that features beer, wine, and wine-based cocktails along with non-alcoholic beverages, and a menu (click here) featuring “one-handed” bites, tapas and snacks. “Things that you can eat while holding a brush in one hand,” Whisler said. West Hartford has been one of the busier locations for Muse Paintbar, which currently has 23 locations nationwide. “We’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to expand,” Whisler said, and while entertainment and restaurant venues suffered through COVID, the West Hartford location has built a strong following and regular guests often bring new groups of friends. “Going into 2024, this is great,” Whisler said, noting that a few other locations including Ashburn, VA, and another near Atlanta will open later this year.
- A few days before Christmas, the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting at Biberon, a boutique which opened recently at Westfarms. Owner Basema Hamied said at a very young age – when she was just 7 – she started drawing and designing. “It was always just a dream of mine to do some sort of art or design,” she said, and she initially launched her career as a tattoo artist. “But life’s too short, and I said, ‘You know I’m going to give it a shot,'” and at age 24 through an e-commerce site she designed and launched her own line of bags, shoes, and coats. “During COVID I worked a lot, and saved a lot,” she said, and those designs are now featured in her boutique, which is one of three “emerging brands” at Westfarms. The pieces all have a distinct retro feel, and the white coat with the rainbow stripe looks very similar to a ski jacket I had as a teen! Hamied she said is a fan of old-time Hollywood stars – she’s also an singer and an actress, and is featured in many of the posters that appear in the store – and her bags are named in honor of Hollywood legends. All are made in Italy, and all are vegan. Most purses retail for $155, wallets are $55, and shoes are $120. Hamied said her future plans include an expansion of her offerings in all categories, and she plans to release a capsule collection in March that will include shoes, bags, and belts.
- Plans are moving ahead for the opening of the Iron Horse Sports Pub in the space at 14-16 Oakwood Avenue, most recently occupied by Park Road Pasta Kitchen. I got a little worried when I saw on the TPZ agenda that they had withdrawn their special use permit plans, but reached out to owner Bob Mercier who said they are still planning to open in the next few months. Mercier originally planned for Iron Horse Pub, which currently has a very popular location in Simsbury, will to have 20 TVs featuring live and recorded sporting events as well as pool tables and dart boards, but the latter two items will require special use permit for an indoor recreational facility. [Updated]
Congratulations to West Hartford resident Christopher Dutton, LCSW, who was recently promoted to the director of Clinical Operations for Outpatient Psychiatric Clinics at the West Hartford-based Bridge Family Center. In this role, he is responsible for the overall operations of the clinics including staffing, compliance, licensing and regulation, revenue management and improved efficiencies. In fiscal year 2023, 784 children and adults were seen by Bridge therapists in our Avon, West Hartford, and Rockville clinics as well as remotely using Telehealth. Dutton joined the Bridge in 2019 as clinical director of Community and School Services. He oversaw all school and community services offered by the Bridge including case consultation and crisis intervention, counseling, support groups, and positive youth development programs. In addition, he led the West Hartford Youth Services Bureau providing comprehensive prevention and intervention services, resource development, community involvement, and advocacy. “Chris has extensive experience in school, residential, and outpatient clinical environments. His ability to connect with children, adolescents, and adults, while providing mental health and substance abuse treatment, has earned him the distinction of a skilled, strategic leader with a compassionate and nurturing nature,” said Margaret Hann, Executive Director of the Bridge Family Center. Dutton earned a Master of Social Work in Administration Degree from the University of Connecticut and a Bachelor of Arts in English Degree from Eastern Connecticut State University.
- In other news from the Bridge Family Center, attorney Carlos Badiola has been welcomed to the organization’s Board of Directors. After spending some years studying and working in other parts of the country, Badiola recently returned to West Hartford, where he was born and raised, to practice law. Outside of his legal practice, Carlos enjoys playing golf in the summer, snowboarding in the winter, and traveling throughout the United States, exploring towns and cities and their culture and cuisine. “As a volunteer for the Bridge when I was an undergraduate, I’ve been fortunate to have first-hand experience with some of the wonderful programs the Bridge offers to children and families in West Hartford and the Greater Hartford Area. I’m honored to once again be involved with an organization that strengthens families, provides children opportunities to play, learn, and grow, and has such a profound impact on our community,” he said. “The Bridge is very excited to welcome Carlos to the Board. His commitment to children and families was evident when he volunteered for us at the Family Resource Center, and has been bolstered through his service on the Board,” stated Margaret Hann, Executive Director of the Bridge Family Center.
- American Eagle Financial Credit Union branches came together across the state to support their local communities this holiday season, the company announced in a news release. AEFCU donated $500 per branch to a local community organization to help build a safer, healthier community, and in West Hartford that organization was The Town That Cares Fund. Additionally, 100s of PJs were donated to the Olive Branch Store with DCF.
- Westfield Bank is pleased to announce a multi-year donation to the Connecticut Foodshare organization. Connecticut Foodshare’s mission is to deliver a more informed and equitable response to hunger by mobilizing community partners, volunteers, and supporters throughout Connecticut. They service Bloomfield, Enfield, Granby and West Hartford, just to name a few, where about 11,000 people experience food insecurity. Westfield Bank’s donation will go towards increasing accessibility and distribution frequency to their “pantry on wheels” program that helps deliver fresh, healthy, and nutritious food to underserved neighborhoods at no cost. “We are proud to continue our support of this wonderful organization,” said James Hagan, President & CEO. Over the past 40-plus years, Connecticut Foodshare has done incredible work dedicating resources to solve food insecurity across the region. Westfield Bank is proud to support this mission.”
- Congratulations to West Hartford resident Francis Vincent, honored at Wheeler’s 13th Annual Hands & Hearts event, held virtually, on Dec. 18. “For the past decade, Francis served in key leadership roles on Wheeler’s Board of Trustees, including vice-chair and chair of the Development Committee. Under his direction and vision, Wheeler established its first capital campaign in decades, set an ambitious goal, and then expanded it, beating it convincingly and ahead of schedule,” a news release states. “Francis’s hard work, drive, and generosity – including a significant leadership gift – were instrumental in Wheeler’s community center at One Hope Street becoming a reality. That project – a state-of-the-art health center – is the perfect alignment with Francis’s life work and passion of addressing disparities and working toward better health outcomes. The son of a physician, Francis was born in Scotland and raised in both Nigeria and Connecticut. Professionally, he served in executive corporate roles to improve health outcomes and make care more affordable for employers and their employees.”
- In collaboration with 2020 Media, We-Ha.com launched the “On the Scene” podcast in 2023, and you can find those episodes here as well as on your favorite podcast platform (Spotify, Apple, etc.).
- ICYMI, West Hartford’s Town Plan & Zoning Commission (TPZ) is meeting on Wednesday night and may be voting on the wetlands application by West Hartford 1 LLC for development of 1700 Asylum Avenue – the east side of the former UConn campus. Click here for a summary of where the project stands, and what is under consideration at this point. The public hearing is closed, but I’ll be there covering the meeting!
- It was recently announced that West Hartford is among the top five markets nationwide for “Zillow surfers“! Yes, apparently that’s a thing, and it’s tracked. Click here for the details.
- I compiled the top stories – and some other details – for 2023. You can find out more here.
Remember, if you have any business news to share, add it in the comments section below or email Ronni Newton at [email protected].