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West Hartford Business Buzz: March 29, 2021

Sola Salon Studios is opening at 61 Raymond Rd. in Blue Back Square. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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

By Ronni Newton

Saturday was such a beautiful day, which followed some nice warm weather during the week, and I hope people got a chance to get outside and enjoy springtime!

The grass is really greening up, and the daffodils are really popping out now. My own daffies are in bloom, but I really like this happy group I saw when I was at the Elmwood Community Center on Friday afternoon.

Daffodils at Elmwood Community Center, March 26, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The happiness at the Elmwood Community Center extended inside as well, where dozens of West Hartford-ites had the opportunity to receive COVID-19 vaccinations at a closed clinic for Hillcrest area residents. The fire department had done outreach – including knocking on doors – the previous weekend to spread the news about the clinic, as part of efforts to make the vaccines as accessible as possible to people in all corners of town. You can find the story about the clinic here, and read about the town’s additional efforts to expand vaccine efforts here.

On Friday I hit my 14-day mark after receiving the J&J vaccine, and now that I am considered fully vaccinated I told my family I felt like superwoman! I haven’t changed my behavior, but the very public activities I have been involved with all along feel much safer.

I’m excited that everyone over the age of 16 will be eligible beginning April 1, and hope people will take advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated as soon as they can.

Saturday night’s dining adventure was at Ocho Cafe. I think it’s the first “repeat” on a Saturday night since I’ve been using this space to help promote our local restaurants. (Ted and I ate there back in early October, in one of our first indoor dining experiences since the pandemic began, and the restaurant, which has done a great job with plexiglass barriers and other COVID mitigation strategies, was also a spotlight in this column in December.) Our daughter, Katie, joined us for a delicious and very colorful meal – accompanied by margaritas!

Alambre from Ocho Cafe (thinly-sliced chicken breast, braised pork, Mexican sausage, bacon, bell peppers, onion, pineapple, and mushrooms topped with melted asadero cheese) served with rice, corn tortillas, and black beans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Bombay Chimichanga at Ocho Cafe (stuffed with chicken, spinach, roasted corn, green peppers, caramelized onions, roasted jalopenos, carrots, and quest fresco, topped with a creamy chardonnay cilantro pecan sauce). Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Quesarito Tacos at Ocho Cafe (beef braised in an adobo sauce with cheese stuffed in corn tortillas, topped with cilantro and onion, with consommé for dipping. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Margarita from Ocho Cafe. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

We hope you’ve been following our Keeping it in the Community feature, which is a collaboration with the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce and the town’s Economic Development Department.

The spotlight does not appear this week, but you can click here to read the most recent “Keeping it in the Community” that focuses on Larsen Ace Hardware.

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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:

Sola Salon Studios is opening at 61 Raymond Rd. in Blue Back Square. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Sola Salon Studios will have a soft opening on Tuesday in the former Skeleton Key and Deadbolt space at 61 Raymond Rd., Blue Back Square General Manager Robyn Rifkin said. The franchise business, owned by partners Brian Jersey and Tom Kuczmarksi (both have ownership in several other Connecticut locations) will feature 20 different “move-in ready” salon studios that are equipped with shampoo bowls, cabinets, and shelving. “We have six that are already leased, and we expect that will pick up one we’ve opened,” Jersey said, noting that they expect to be fully leased by the s summer and the general public, as well as interested stylists, are welcome to walk through and check out the space as soon as they are open for business. The majority of the spaces are, and are expected to be, leased by hair stylists, but Jersey said that barbers, estheticians, and make-up artists will also likely be interested in the spaces. “Any salon professional that wants a private space,” he said. While business in general has been down for hair stylists due to the pandemic, the private one-on-one experience in a space like Sola Salon is an environment that makes many feel more comfortable, said Jersey. He said they have not had a single case of COVID in any of their locations. “We’re super excited,” he said about the opening in Blue Back Square. They love the convenience of the space, the available parking either right in the lot or in the nearby Isham Garage, and the prominent location on Raymond Road. For more information about Sola Salon Studios West Hartford, visit their website.

Interior of Sola Salon Studios, opening this week at 61 Raymond Rd. Photo courtesy of Brian Jersey

Sample studio at Sola Salon. Photo courtesy of Tom Kuczmarski

  • This is a week for some major news about retirements, and I thank Rosie DeRobertis for allowing me to break the news that after an 89-year run in the Hartford area, DeRobertis Jewelers will be closing for good this spring. She and her husband, Gene DeRobertis, will be retiring, and have decided to close rather than selling what has been a family business since Gene’s family started it in 1932. She said the date has been circled on the calendar for a long time and was part of their five-year plan. “We want to stress that it’s not a COVID thing, and it’s not for lack of support from the West Hartford community who have been fabulous to us,” Rosie said. Gene is a fourth-generation jeweler, but other than the four-pawed variety, they have no children to carry on the family name of the business. “We have families who have shopped with us for generations. We will miss them most of all,” Rosie said. “The jewelry business is a happy business. We share the happy moments in life and celebrate the milestones,” she said, and much of their business is bridal-oriented. Gene noted that many of the store’s long-time employees are also at retirement age, and will be retiring along with them. They have been at the current location at 52 LaSalle Rd. for 21 years, and prior to that were in Hartford after an earlier stint on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford. The retirement sale will begin Tuesday, and they expect the last day to be May 29.

Rosie and Gene DeRobertis stand in front of their store at 52 LaSalle Rd. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Rosie and Gene DeRobertis shopping for diamonds in Antwerp. Courtesy photo

Three generations of the DeRobertis family. Gene (left) is pictured with his father and grandfather. Courtesy photo

  • Another end of an era is the retirement of Dr. Rick Liftig, who will be transitioning his patients to The Center for Dental Excellence at 14 Brace Rd. in West Hartford Center. Liftig, who has practiced dentistry in Elmwood for 41 years (10 Princeton St.), and has also been the president of the Elmwood Business Association for as long as I can remember, noted that this is not a closing but rather a “business transition.” The Center for Dental Excellence is located in newly-renovated office space, and has free parking available, said Liftig (pictured below with the staff of The Center for Dental Excellence). The Center for Dental Excellence is a general and family dental practice that also provides highly specialized care for complex situations. Dr. Lawrence Christian is a classmate of Dr. Liftig’s from dental school. Dr. Bruce Nghiem received his prosthodontic degree from the University of Iowa and Dr. Michael Christian is a board certified prosthodontist with his degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Their office phone number is 860-521-7129. Liftig joined his father’s practice in 1980. Dr. Al Liftig had been practicing in Elmwood since 1952. With such a long presence in Elmwood, it was only natural that Dr. Rick became an advocate for the community. Liftig said that he and his wife, Kathy, “will be eagerly pursuing their new roles as ‘Nana and Pop’ with their grand-daughter Abby.” Although the sale of the business has already taken place and Dr. Rick has officially retired, he’s still going to be involved with the Elmwood Business Association as he is joined by Aldo Carducci (of AC Automotive) who Liftig said will be joining him as a co-president as the work through a transition and a re-constitution for the group. “Aldo and his dad started AC Automotive in 1985 so he is a perfect partner! Aldo is very cognizant of the fact that Elmwood always needs to have a voice at the table and that EBA will need to be there to advocate for our area of town,” Liftig said.

Dr. Rick Liftig (seated at right) has transitioned his patients to The Center for Dental Excellence. Courtesy photo

Cotton On KIDS is now open at Westfarms in the former Gymboree space. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Speaking of Westfarms, the new-to-market Cotton On has already opened its kids store (pictured above, where Gymboree used to be) and will soon be opening the women’s and men’s store on the second level (near Center Court). Cotton On, which launched in 1988, is Australia’s largest global brand, focused on cotton clothing, and with a strong commitment to ethical operations.

Cotton On will be opening its women’s and men’s store soon on the second level of Westfarms, near Center Court. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • The Hartford Business Journal reported Friday that the building where the West Hartford Center Whole Foods is located (50 Raymond Rd.) has been listed for sale this week for $40.5 million. Whole Foods opened in 2005 and according to the HBJ, the current lease runs through 2026.

Journey Home Party Watch box. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Congrats to Journey Home on the enormous success of their virtual cocktail party and fundraiser Thursday night. Ted and I have attended more virtual events than we care to count over the past year, but this was definitely one of the best organized and most fun. The “Party Watch Box” of mostly local items was delicious! The marinated cauliflower and artichokes, along with the hand-crafted crackers dipped in local honey, were my favorites, as well as (of course) and the fixings for The Hartford Mule cocktail, the creation of which was expertly rolled out by celebrity mixologist Renee DiNino. According to Journey Home’s Sara Wilson, $126,749 was raised through the auction.

Mauro Consalvi. Courtesy photo

  • West Hartford-based Matik welcomes Mauro Consalvi as the newest addition to its sales management team. Consalvi will be responsible for North American sales of OLBRICH coating/laminating products, the company said in a news release. “Mauro brings extensive knowledge of coating and laminating machines,” Steve Leibin, president at Matik, said in the release. “His broad experience in managing sales representatives and directing sales activities will help us to continue to meet, and exceed, our customers’ expectations. Mauro will be a strong asset in our organization and a key contributor to our customers’ success.” Consalvi has more than 30 years of experience in the printing industry, ranging from product development and design to capital equipment sales and sales management. He has represented several industry-leading manufacturers of coating and laminating machines, web viewing and web inspection. For additional information about OLBRICH solutions, visit Matik products and services at www.matik.com, call 860-232-2323 or email [email protected].

Lili St. Amand. Courtesy photo

  • Congratulations to Lili “Bloom” St. Amand of West Hartford (pictured above), who is the recipient of a Connecticut Dance Alliance Jump Start Award, which celebrates original work from Connecticut choreographers. According to a news release, St. Amand “has been teaching Hip Hop since she was sixteen! She found her love for Hip Hop when she was six years old. She believes in spreading her love and knowledge for Hip Hop through her teaching and is always eager to teach the next generation so Hip Hop can stay alive. Lili has participated in countless battles. In May 2017 Lili won World of DanceNew Jersey Head Bangerz Brawl. She was asked to come back in 2018 to judge the battle and preform on the World of Dance stage. She has also participated in Breakdancing Shakespeare at Hartford Stage, performing in Hamlet in 2015 and Romeo and Juliet in 2016. Three years later she came back to Hartford Stage to be the assistant choreographer for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Through the summer of 2019 she did countless street performances with Hartford Live, a program the Greater Hartford Arts Council created to bring lively performances to light the streets of Hartford with art. Lili continues to constantly educate herself and be on the Hip Hop scene so she can stay current and give her students the best knowledge and teachings possible.”
  • Sandy Morander, president and CEO of the Greater San Antonio YMCA, was quoted in an article in the San Antonio Report regarding the inequities between training equipment and facilities for the women’s and men’s NCAA basketball tournament. The YMCA of Greater San Antonio subsequently lent 70 pieces of equipment to the Women’s NCAA Tournament, including treadmills, weight racks, rowing machines, and exercise balls. Morander is a 1980 graduate of Conard High School.
  • Congratulations to Mental Health Connecticut (MHC), based in West Hartford, which has been awarded a Platinum level rating, the highest offered, for Mental Health America’s Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health. The Bell Seal is a first-of-its-kind workplace mental health certification that recognizes employers who strive to create mentally healthy workplaces for their employees. In 2020, MHC ramped up efforts to support Connecticut workplaces through our Community Education programming. Many businesses reached out to MHC for help to support employees struggling with their mental health due to the disruptions from the pandemic, such as social isolation, experiences of loss, lack of emotional safety, and increased stress and anxiety. “Mental Health Connecticut is proud to be among the first organizations to be certified by MHA. Our status as a Bell Seal-certified organization demonstrates MHC’s ongoing commitment to employee mental health and well-being, an achievement not possible without our staff’s commitment to our mission and values, and to each other,” said Luis B. Perez, President & CEO of Mental Health Connecticut. “I am thrilled to congratulate Mental Health Connecticut on receiving its Bell Seal. As a Connecticut resident and mental health advocate, I feel proud whenever we can lay claim to promoting mental health. We are all doing the best we can in these tough times. And every great employer cares about the mental health of its employees. I hope others – across all industries – will join Mental Health Connecticut in applying to Mental Health America for a Bell Seal of their own,” said Paul Gionfriddo, President & CEO of Mental Health America. For more info about Mental Health Connecticut visit www.mhconn.org
  • ICYMI, the state House last week voted to extend Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders for another month (they are otherwise set to expire on April 20) and also voted unanimously to codify the order that allows municipalities to expand outdoor dining through March 2022. Full details can be found here.
  • The West Hartford Chamber of Commerce will hold th next installment in its “Colorful Conversations” series, focused on Barriers to Technology, this Thursday. Click here for 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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