A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
By Ronni Newton
The weather turned cold again this week, but there are more and more signs of spring.
Inside my house, as well as outside if you are away from the wind, the sun’s increased strength is palpable. The crocuses in the yard of the house across the street – where the full afternoon sun always makes quick work of the snow – are about to burst into bloom. My daffodils are getting taller and stronger, too.
It’s going to be in the 60s this week, and I hope to spend as much time as possible outside.
I feel a sense of hope, which I always feel at spring’s arrival, but this year the vaccine is the harbinger of springtime, bringing the profound sense that we are finally coming out of the long, dark winter – a winter which has lasted for the past year.
I’ve reported on at least a half dozen vaccination clinics since the very first one at Hartford Hospital on Dec. 14, and I’ve seen the joy and relief wash over people’s faces as they feel the imminent return to some type of normalcy. In the past week, so many of my friends (my age group is now eligible, and I know a lot of teachers, many of whom received their vaccines at Conard) have been administered the contents of those vials of hope. My own turn comes this Friday.
Fifty-two weeks ago, in the introduction to this column, I mentioned that it was the beginning of budget season. I noted that Superintendent Tom Moore had just released the school budget the previous week (that took place again this past Tuesday), and Town Manager Matt Hart was preparing to release the town’s budget the upcoming week (he will do that this coming Tuesday). I also wrote the following:
As if budget isn’t serious enough, I don’t want to end this introduction without another serious note. I’m finding it hard not to hug people when I see them, and hard to believe that the coronavirus is really going to impact our safe and secure town of West Hartford. And while I personally have no plans to stockpile toilet paper (I really don’t get why that’s a thing right now) or anything else, I’ve been staying on top of the latest information as the COVID-19 virus spreads, makes its appearance in the state, and causes cancellation of various activities.
As of press time, the first Connecticut resident has been diagnosed with COVID-19. According to a news release from the governor’s office issued early Sunday afternoon, the patient, “a resident of Wilton who is 40 to 50 years of age, is being treated at Danbury Hospital. The person most likely became infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 during a recent trip to California and sought medical care shortly after returning to Connecticut.”
COVID testing was in its infancy, but still, it wasn’t long (March 20) before had our first positive case in West Hartford.
We’ve learned so much over the past year – new words for our vocabulary, advancement in science, how to more effectively use technology. We’ve learned about our resolve, about human nature.
Who knew that cardboard cutouts (including of pets) would be the only members of the audience at sporting events, theaters, and other venues.
I received an email Sunday from my friend and former co-worker Susan Schoenberger. Her third novel, “The Liability of Love,” is coming out this summer, but she also regularly engages with readers and friends via email. (Click here to subscribe, and learn more about her upcoming book.)
It was Susan’s words of truth, not fiction, that struck me this week: “Pandemic loss is a hole so big it’s got its own gravitational pull. Right now I’m still orbiting, assessing the vastness of it, and it will be some time before I can pull away long enough to put it in perspective … Already, the whole past year feels like one long, repetitive day, and that’s how I’ll probably remember it. But the light is changing, the winter almost over. I feel the pull of other planets that offer hope, love, and joy, and I’m inclined to head in that direction. Hope you are too.”
That’s exactly how I feel.
I don’t want to forget about Saturday night’s dinner. Ted and Sam didn’t give me much time to take a photo because they were starving, but our takeout from Citizen Chicken and Donuts was delicious!
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.
Keeping it in the Community Tip: Local businesses offer a broad range of extracurricular options for students
Extracurricular activities can make for a well-rounded student. They allow kids to explore a variety of interests to complement or supplement their academics. Schools do very good job of providing some of these opportunities for students, most notable through sports and clubs. Some kids want to do more beyond what schools can offer. For those parents and students looking to enhance learning and activity, they can look to several businesses in town. Some of the more popular activities are music and dance. There are also businesses that offer year-round learning and practice in things like soccer, martial arts, coding, robotics, art, cheerleading, and many more. The West Hartford Chamber of Commerce directory can help you find some of these businesses and organizations to nurture the student in your life.
Keeping it in the Community Spotlight: CT Hart Cheer
Alexis Safo-Agyeman ran and coached cheerleading programs for the Town of West Hartford, Conard High School, and the West Hartford Football League for five years before opening her own training facility, CT Hart Cheer, in June 2018.
She’s the owner, as well as the coach, and hopes to eventually expand the business to other locations.
COVID-19 has been tough for this small business, which has provided “instructional classes, performance team opportunities, and a variety of camps and clinics for athletes ages from 5 years old to adults of all abilities” according to the website.
“We were shut down in March and April, and with the restrictions on contact sports and gyms we were stuck in limbo,” Safo-Agyeman said. “We definitely lost athletes and had to discontinue many of the programming we offered in the past.”
Once able to reopen, to mitigate risk, to employees as well as participants, she said CT Hart Cheer has instituted numerous protocols including:
- Mask Required
- Temprature Checks
- Sanitization Stations
- No outside shoes allowed
- Hybrid class model
Like many business owners, Safo-Agyeman has had to find new ways to operate and to find participants. “I have been promoting my services to local high schools, I have done private tumbling lessons in athletes’ backyards,” she said. She has also offered free strength and conditioning classes via Zoom.
When asked what some of her successes have been, Safo-Agyeman was effusive: “Staying open!! Giving athletes a second home, and STAYING OPEN!” she said.
“It has been a blessing and I cannot say how lucky I am to say that I have provided that for not only myself, but for our athletes and coaches,” she said.
CT Hart Cheer is located at 635 New Park Ave. Spring programs begin on March 15. For more information, visit their website.
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:
- It’s been more than a year since West Hartford resident Cody McCormack launched the “roasting” part of his business – and that was great news – but I’m so excited to announce the rest of his dream is coming to fruition, and he plans to open WeHa Brewing and Roasting Company this summer at 141 Shield St. McCormack said he will be occupying the entire 6,000 square foot building, located right next to the Shield Street Post Office, that was most recently occupied by a restaurant/banquet hall called Europe. Half of the space will be reserved for brewing of the beer, under the able guidance of Will Gorry, who has been brewing commercially for about 10 years and has extensive experience in local breweries. They will also be preparing and serving food. “In the morning we’ll have baked goods from a local bakery, coffee, and espresso drinks,” McCormack said. At lunch and dinner, he will have a menu that will include foods that go well with beer – like wood-fired pizzas, pretzels with beer cheese dip, and wings. McCormack said the site plan has been approved by the town, and he is applying for permits with the hope of starting demolition/build-out in the next few weeks with the hope of opening in early July. In addition to the brewery, there will be a private event room to accommodate up to 25 people, and seating for roughly 75 in the tap room. There will also be a small roasting room and a separate “coffee bar” area. There will be some outdoor seating as well, and McCormack plans to offer some live entertainment. The WeHa Roasting side of the business currently has several small-batch coffee blends available through their website, many named for West Hartford neighborhoods like the Blue Back Square and Center blends, as well as some single-origin coffees. The coffee is currently available for free delivery within West Hartford and also available as an add-on to orders from the Modern Milkman. McCormack said WeHa Brewing and Roasting Company will have taps for 12 beers – 10 of them their own brews and two guest beers – including some that are blends with their coffees. Gorry is doing test batches, and being very creative with the combinations, McCormack said. “It’s usually darker beers, stouts and porters, that are blended with coffee,” he said. “But we’re not afraid to do a coffee IPA.” He’s still working his day job as a CPA, but hopes WeHa Brewing and Roasting will become his full time career. “I’m excited. After years of planning, we are finally ready to open.,” he said. “I’m absolutely thrilled. He’s already made such and impression on the community,” West Hartford Economic Development Specialist Kristen Gorski said. “The investment he’ll make to that property on Shield Street is remarkable.” The sketch (shown above) is being updated, and the private tasting room will have an open view into the brewing area, but McCormack said it still gives a good idea of the plans. For updates, follow @wehabrewingco and @weharoastingco on Facebook and Instagram.
- On March 5, West Hartford residents Jordan Abbott and Claire Bastian launched Nutmeg + Honey, an online gifting boutique that specializes in discovering the very best products from Connecticut small businesses and curating them into custom gift boxes. Each box aligns with a gifting occasion like “thinking of you” and “housewarming” and supports between three and five local businesses. Their keepsake boxes are even manufactured in Bridgeport, CT. To make the gifting experience more personal, they include a handwritten card with every gift. Nutmeg + Honey was actually inspired by the Neighbors and Friends of West Hartford Facebook Group! They saw so many requests to support small businesses, but with every request came 50 plus recommendations. They noticed that many small businesses didn’t have a strong online presence, so they came up with the idea to bring products from dozens of small businesses together into curated boxes on a streamlined platform. Nutmeg + Honey ships anywhere in the domestic United States and offers local delivery to West Hartford, Avon, Simsbury, Farmington, Bloomfield, and Hartford. They plan to expand their box selection and will be offering wedding and corporate gifting in the near future. They launched with limited quantities of their 12 flagship boxes, and plan to restock quickly and expand the selection within the next two months. You can find them at www.nutmeghoney.com and on Facebook and Instagram @nutmeghoney.
- “What’s better than 1 Cake Gypsy store in West Hartford? What would you say if I told you we are opening 2?” Cake Gypsy owner Deanna Damen posted on Facebook last week. Damen is already planning to open a bakery at 1123 New Britain Ave. in Elmwood, and told me she has also just signed a lease for 20 Jefferson Ave., Suite 1, in the former Classic Cakes by Carol location (same building as Ballet Theatre Company and Russell’s Creative Catering, right behind 485 New Park). “Our business model has always been to have multiple commercial kitchens to not only guarantee fresh product but also to be able to keep up with the volume so we never run out and you can be assured to get your favorite cupcake. With the addition of this store we will now have 6 commercial kitchens to better serve you. We have also hired more bakers and will be expanding our product line. We are beyond excited about all the exciting things we’ve got planned for you. We are working like crazy to complete the stores and will keep you posted as to opening dates. Thank you for making this all possible. Sometimes it all just seems like a dream. A very “SWEET” dream,” Damen wrote on Facebook.
- BodyRoc celebrated its 5th anniversary in October (happy belated!), and owner Shaun Chambers, who recently opened another business, Smash Avenue, has some more exciting news. Chambers told me he’s shooting for an April 1 date to move a few doors down, right next to Smash Avenue at 635 New Park Ave. “While the BodyRoc Xperience will remain the same (Run.Box.Lift), the additional space will give us the opportunity to add more functional training equipment and more importantly, we’ll have more room to ROC out!” Chambers said in an email.
“I want to thank you guys for getting me through these last few years, especially this past year when I needed your love and support the most. You motivate me, inspire me, and make my role as a CEO both fulfilling and fun.”
- I love reporting on businesses coming out of hibernation (part of that hopeful springtime vibe that I mentioned in the introduction), and the Elbow Room/Tap Room (986 Farmington Ave.) is the latest to announce plans to reopen. They posted on Facebook that they plan to reopen on March 31, with a “new facelift including brand new open kitchen design and three 50 inch flat screens for all of your viewing pleasures. Our tireless chefs have kept up with ALL the foodie-trends, now featuring brand new dinner and cocktail menus (don’t worry, we kept the stand-by’s), 15+ rotating craft beers, and of course patio and rooftop dining. While we are excited to reopen, The Elbow Room continues to pay close attention to state guidelines for capacity and hours of operation. Increased sanitation members remain in place.
Starting March 31st, come grab your table in the Tap Room, dining room, street-level patio, and of course the HIGHLY coveted rooftop patio!!”
- I haven’t had a chance to check this out yet, but the West Hartford Art League has an exhibit by its members in the former Charming Charlie’s space (76 Memorial Rd.) in Blue Back Square. All works are for sale, the exhibits will be changing monthly, and details can be found here.
- Let’s help out Ryan Keating of Keating Agency Insurance. He is competing in an insurance reality show, “The Protégé,” against ten other insurance professionals, and next week three of them will be announced to advance to a final competition in September for a $10,000 grand prize. Metrics to advance include social media following and engagement, and Keating would love people to: “Like/comment/share on my recent Linkedin post with a teaser trailer for the show; Like The Protégé Show on Facebook; and thumbs-up his entry and bio video on YouTube (one of which is pasted below. “This has been a fun experience over the last 3-4 months and I am excited to see what content gets put together for the 7 challenge episodes. If you want to watch more content from other contestants or get notified as episodes release you can subscribe to the Killing Commercial Protégé Channel, Keating said.
- While we’re talking contests, I’ll put in a little plug for one that I’m currently a part of: I am thrilled to be a finalist for a CT Entrepreneur Award in the “Community Builder” category! The press release will be out later today, but I was told it was okay to share the link to vote for me: https://ctentrepreneurawards.com/finalist/ronni-newton/. There are other West Hartford businesses/residents included in the nominees, which fall into various categories, and I’ll share the rest later today.
- The former Bally’s Total Fitness property at 1031 New Britain Ave. (this was the first gym I joined after moving to West Hartford in 1998) was sold in October 2020 to A Storage Solution LLC, and work to transform that long-vacant property into a self-storage facility is now underway. The parcel was not impacted by the nine-month moratorium on non-transit-oriented development that was approved by the Town Council in November 2020 because the project had already received Council approval.
- J. McLaughlin (981 Farmington Ave.) is hosting a “sip and shop” fundraiser Friday and Saturday for the Healing Meals Community Project. Details on the flyer below.
- The West Hartford-based Children’s Museum Group (TCMG) has recently elected five new members of the community to its Board of Trustees. On Feb. 3, the Board welcomed: Ayesha Clarke, Deputy Director, Health Equity Solutions and Chair of the City of Hartford Board of Education; Erin Concepcion, Sustainability Lead at The Hartford; Dr. Luis Diez-Morales, Medical Director of the Center for Health Equity and The Curtis D. Robinson Men’s Health Institute of Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center; Cherie Griffith-Dunn, Principal & Owner of Cherie Griffith-Dunn LLC and Co-chair for the Bank of America’s Black Professional Group; and Bree Pelczar, Vice President, Philanthropic Events and Engagement, at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Foundation. “We are extremely pleased to add this level of experience, talent and strategic perspective to our Board,” said Peter Stevens, the current Board Chair and President of JCJ Architecture. “They will be very helpful in guiding the continuing growth of our STEM/STEAM-based programs for children ages 3 to 13 and their families in the Hartford region and throughout CT.” Mike Werle, TCMG’s Executive Director stated that: “Due to the efforts of a dedicated staff and engaged Board, in the past five years, TCMG has been able to significantly re- strengthen all of its offerings, with special focus on addressing the educational needs of the underserved. With the addition of these new members, we will be able continue building on that foundation and expanding our efforts.”
- ICYMI, Mayor Shari Cantor and town staff are taking steps to ensure that even if the governor’s executive order expires, the Town of West Hartford will once again offer expanded outdoor dining opportunities this spring, summer, and fall. A survey, with good feedback, has already been sent to restaurants in the Center and Blue Back Square, Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski said, and stakeholder meetings will be taking place soon. More information can be found here.
- Also ICYMI, restrictions on dining, retail, fitness facility, and other businesses will be lifted as of March 19, although 6-foot distancing and mask wearing protocols will remain in place. Click here for the complete story and to hear what some local business owners think about the changes.
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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