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West Hartford Business Buzz: November 16, 2020

Warby Parker will be opening a store at Westfarms. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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

By Ronni Newton

It’s now mid-November, and raise your hand if you want to jump ahead to the spring.

We are about to enter what will be a very different holiday season, and probably a very tough winter with the COVID-19 pandemic getting worse before it gets better. I’m not a fan of winter under ordinary circumstances – and I hope I’m just being overly pessimistic, but don’t think that’s the case.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Connecticut resident, and former head of the Food and Drug Administration, did say during Gov. Ned Lamont’s press conference last Thursday that he does see a light at the end of the tunnel: “This is really the sort of eighth inning, if you will. I think this is the final stage of the acute phase of this pandemic that we really need to get through,” he said.

We-Ha.com was honored to have Gov. Lamont as our guest for Thursday evening’s Facebook Live roundtable discussion (we were also joined by Mayor Shari Cantor, and you can watch and listen to the replay of that discussion here), and he reiterated Gottlieb’s words, including the message that keeping kids in school as long as possible is critically important.

As we prepare to have college kids returning home for the semester, and plan Thanksgiving meals for just immediate family or a small group, I hope everyone can keep up the vigilance, keep wearing their masks, and know that the ninth inning is on the horizon. COVID-19 is everywhere, and even the governor is quarantining after a senior staff member tested positive.

Chicken pesto pizza from Harry’s Pizzeria and Tavern in West Hartford Center. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Ted and I are continuing to support a variety of local restaurants, and this week we ate at Harry’s Pizzeria in the Center. The chicken and pesto pizza in the photo was a small – and it was plenty of food for both of us!

We thought about doing takeout but really wanted a change of scenery from our house so we ate indoors at Harry’s, and felt very safe – tables extremely well-spaced and definitely keeping the occupancy under 50% capacity.

Despite COVID, we’ve got some very good news in this week’s column, along with another tip from the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce and the town’s Economic Development Department and a mini-feature.

Read last week’s tip and feature on Fleet Feet Sports here.

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: Spread the Wealth

The holidays will soon be here!

Consider theme gifts for friends, family and teachers. You can build a theme basket with items from multiple West Hartford businesses. For example – “Experience France” could include a French cookbook, wine, cheese, a French-themed mug or plate, phrasebook, a small piece of art, or craft with a French theme. Challenge yourself to buy the items from as many local stores as possible.

STAY on Park, 207 Park Rd., West Hartford Courtesy Lisa Howard

Keeping it in the Community: STAY on Park, and its vintage partners

Lisa Walsh Howard describes herself as the “owner, manager, toilet bowl cleaner” for STAY on Park, a shop located at 207 Park Road that specializes in “unique and interesting home items, furniture, antiques, home goods, new, old, and fun.” She and her husband, Joe, do it all, Howard said.

Stay on Park celebrated its first anniversary in its current location in March 2020 “then closed to STAY home when COVID was becoming worse,” Howard said. 

“COVID STAY home, STAY safe, allowed us to think about what we could be doing different to grow our business. I was worried. I named the business STAY – a happy name. Who doesn’t love when someone invites you over and says, Please STAY!” Howard said.

She wanted to offer unique and fun gifts, but Howard had no idea how long the “STAY home” was going to last.

“We made the decision to go big or go home,” she said.

Refinishing furniture has turned into a core part of the business. Courtesy of Lisa Howard

“I started to utilize my Instagram (@stayonpark) and Facebook account by posting items. When I posted furniture we upcycle and make new again, it became very clear people were spending time in their homes and they were in need of updating their decor,” said Howard. “I was posting before and after photo’s creating the vibe that you can use what you have in your home, just update it!” That’s how the custom furniture business really took off. Not surprisingly, with most people working from home, desks were extremely popular.

Before refinishing. Courtesy of Lisa Howard

After a complete makeover. Courtesy Lisa Howard

In mid-May, as part of Phase 1, Howard was able to reopen STAY on Park.

“I was ready, but unsure if people would visit the shop,” said Howard. “We were offering free delivery and curbside buying. It took one phone call from a friend asking me to put together a hostess gift for a socially-distant cocktail party she was going to in 10 minutes. I put together something quickly, and ran it out to her car. I posted it on social media – and that began my gift boxes!” Those gift boxes have also become a mainstay of the business.

Gift box from STAY on Park. Courtesy of Lisa Howard

Image of a gift box from STAY on Park posted on social media. Courtesy of Lisa Howard

Howard now has a local artist who creates wood boxes, and she offers gift boxes at a variety of price points, with a variety of themes, all design “to make someone’s day happy!” she said, adding that gift wrap is also very important.

“My unique mix of gift items – vintage and new – have been received well. I have three daughters and a ton of nieces who give me the ideas of what to carry,” said Howard.  “I do not like trends – I like different! They all have encouraged me to bring back my artwork which I will be doing in the spring.”

Collaborating with her Park Road neighbors, and other West Hartford businesses that specialize in vintage items, has also led to success and a sense of community.

“I love our community spirit,” Howard said.

The White Rabbit is located at 214 Park Rd., West Hartford, Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“STAY on Park is in the greatest neighborhood. Emily King, owner of The White Rabbit across the street (214 Park Rd.) is a fabulous shopkeeper who supports all the local shopkeepers! The first day back to opening in May she walked over with a pamphlet she created highlighting all the area small local businesses such as ours. We hand those out to shoppers. It works because it allows people to realize they have a number of shops to stop by and visit, not just one. We really cheer each other on,” Howard said.

A friend encouraged Howard to create a website, and then started it for her. STAY on Park’s website (www.stayonpark.com), which is under construction by Ryan Marketing in West Hartford, will launch later this week. The business will have a new logo, too.

“This will mean we will be ready for the winter month’s should we have to STAY home again,” Howard said.

STAY on Park is doing everything possible to STAY open, STAY safe, and support other local businesses. “I follow all the CDC guidelines, everyone MUST wear a mask and sanitize their hands upon entering and leaving,” she said. Customers can still make an appointment for one-on-one visits to the store if they are not comfortable being around others. 

“I can’t wait to see what 2021 brings to STAY on Park – stop by and STAY awhile,” Howard said.

To reach Howard, email her at [email protected].

Brochure created by Emily King at The White Rabbit, promoting West Hartford’s vintage businesses. Courtesy of Lisa Howard

Brochure created by Emily King at The White Rabbit, promoting West Hartford’s vintage businesses. Courtesy of Lisa Howard

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:

Warby Parker will be opening a store at Westfarms. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • There isn’t an opening date available yet, but eyewear company Warby Parker will be opening at Westfarms. A barrier is in place, and Warby Parker’s build-out is getting underway for the trendy yet affordable eyeglass store which will be located next to Tory Burch, on the upper level near the center court in the former Hanna Andersson space. According to their website, “Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.” The only locations in Connecticut are currently in Greenwich and Norwalk. Visit the website for details about the company, and look for more information to come as the opening date and other details are finalized.
  • Also at Westfarms, Brio Tuscan Grille, which closed when in-person dining shut down in March, seemed to have been closed permanently and never reopened with on-premises dining was once again permitted. The now-former parent company had filed for bankruptcy, and indicated at the time that while 21 of their former 92 locations would remain open, the Westfarms location was not among them. Brio was purchased by Earl Enterprises, which has begun opening some of the former locations, and a Westfarms spokesperson confirmed that Brio – which has a sign out front indicating that they are hiring – will reopen on Dec. 7. Brio is located on the upper level near Macy’s, and is also has an exterior entrance near the main entrance to Westfarms that faces New Britain Avenue.

Brio will be reopening Dec. 7, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • While we’re talking about Westfarms, there have also been media reports about Crab du Jour opening at the shopping center. The Crab du Jour website also indicates a Westfarms location is coming soon, but according to a Westfarms spokesperson, there is not a signed lease at this time.

    Courtesy image

  • The social enterprise novelty sock shop SockStarz recently expanded its footprint to include 16 LaSalle Rd. (in addition to the existing 18 LaSalle Rd. location, and while the long-term use of the space will focus on workplace training for participants of SockStarz parent non-profit, Harc, the space will feature a Holiday Shop for the remainder of the season. “We are thrilled to expand on typical product offering to support a safer, one-stop shopping experience for the community, while also offering these exciting products online,” Sockstarz General Manager Patricia Kinney said in a news release. Alongside Sockstarz’ evolving collection of novelty socks and accessories, products including candles, jewelry and apparel have been added to the mix. Many of the products available in store and online benefit important causes. Sock brand “Conscious Step “provides sock styles specific to supporting causes including poverty, ocean health, and saving LGBTQ lives at support. One of the most popular product offerings is Mangiacotti hand sanitizer sprays and hand lotions, the sales of which provide jobs for individuals with disabilities. SockStarz’ newest product partnership is with Able Made, a locally-based social enterprise apparel company founded by Suzanne McKenzie. Proceeds from the sale of Able Made empower city youth, through the Ucal McKenzie Breakaway Foundation, and feature designer and fundraising collaborations with The Guggenheim, The High Line, Pencils of Promise and more. Products from both SockStarz and Able Made are featured in the 2020 Greater Hartford Holiday Gift Guide, curated by local marketing group, The Small Business Collective. The annual guide, now in its third year, features gifts and experience, from Central Connecticut-based artisans, makers, and small businesses. The SockStarz Holiday Shop at 16 Lasalle Rd. is open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Visit Sockstarzusa.com to shop online or book a free, private shopping experience. To view the products and experiences featured in the 2020 Greater Hartford Holiday Gift Guide, visit hartfordgiftguide.com.
  • With the rollback to Phase 2.1, Essential Health (a chiropractic office with a natural foods store attached), at 74 Park Rd., has re-launched its online store to make it more convenient to shop for healthy foods during this time. The site has an emphasis on pastured meats from small family farms (including chicken, beef, pork, venison, bison, and more), but also offers raw milk, keto brownies, and even ice cream. New items are being added and they offer same day ordering for in-store pickup, delivery, or curbside pickup. Shoppers are welcome to come inside for other foods and nutritional supplements. To shop, click here. More information about the farm partners can be found here.
  • West Hartford Center nonprofit boutique Ten Thousand Villages (967 Farmington Ave.) will be holding a shopping event to benefit the Jewish Association for Community Living (JCL), from Monday, Nov. 16 through Thursday, Nov. 19. Ten Thousand Villages is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and anyone who shops during that time can request that 15% of their purchase be donated to JCL. “Just be sure to mention it at checkout,” Store Manager Teri Osborne advised. JCL helps people with developmental disabilities participate in community life as independently and safely as possible, and offers a variety of programs including group homes, supported living, day support, and Judaic programs. While JCL is one of the few organizations in the area that helps adults with special needs observe and reinforce their Jewish heritage, they are open to all faiths. Visit jcl-ct.org for more information.

    The former Bally Total Fitness at 1031 New Britain Ave. has been sold to a self storage company. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo from November 2016)

  • The former Bally Total Fitness – which was the first gym I joined when I moved to West Hartford more than 20 years ago – at 1031 New Britain Ave. has been in a state of disrepair for a very long time. In 2015 the Town Council had approved a plan to convert the property to self storage, but then-owner WH-ELM LLC never moved forward with the project. The building was offered for sale, with the caveat that the seller would only honor offers to covert the property to self storage in accordance with the site plan already approved. The property was recently sold to A Storage Solution LLC, and based on the name of the company, it appears the self storage plan will be moving forward although according to Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski, the property owner has not yet applied for permits. The state of the property, which has been filled with piles of debris and has prompted complaints from the community, was discussed at the Nov. 10 Town Council meeting, and Town Manager Matt Hart said staff will be looking into the situation.
  • Congratulations to West Hartford Economic Development Coordinator Kristen Gorski, who has been selected by her peers as president of the Connecticut Economic Development Association (CEDAS) for the 2021-2022 year. CEDAS is a statewide not-for-profit membership organization committed to advancing the practice and process of economic development in Connecticut, and Gorski has been a member of the Board of Directors since 2017. “Congratulations, Kristen, we appreciate all that you do for our businesses and our community! Thank you for stepping up to lead CEDAS during this challenging time,” Town Manager Matt Hart wrote in his Town Manager’s Report.
  • Taylor Rental has closed their West Hartford location (600 Oakwood Ave.) about two weeks ago, but the company is still very much in business. They have consolidated operations in Manchester (274 Broad St.) and a representative said that it made sense to have everything all in one place, particularly since they already own the building in Manchester but were leasing in West Hartford. Deliveries will still be made to West Hartford, but any pick-ups must now be made from Manchester.
  • A few temporary closing notes: Shake Shack in the Corbin Collection is back open after a COVID-related closure. So is Modern Tire, which reported that an employee tested positive and is recovering. They closed for cleaning, and while everyone got tested, but all other employees have tested negative. Goldberg’s Bagels has been closed for several days for cleaning (no other information provided) and according to their website is due to reopen Tuesday morning.
  • ICYMI, the West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square outdoor dining corrals will be removed beginning today, but they were so successful they likely will reappear in some form next spring. Complete details can be found here.
  • The West Hartford Chamber of Commerce and the town’s Economic Development Department will be hosting a forum on “Business Solutions in the World of COVID-19” on 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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