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Bishops Corner Blue Back Square Business Elmwood Park Road The Center

West Hartford Business Buzz: November 30, 2020

Woof Gang, located at 62 Isham Rd. in Blue Back Square, is now under new ownership. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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

By Ronni Newton

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

For the past several years I have been pretty much able to copy and paste my introduction from the Monday after Thanksgiving without having to change much, but this year’s weekend was very different.

Newton family Thanksgiving Zoom.

I still roasted a turkey large enough to generate lots of leftovers – and made all of my other Thanksgiving favorites – and we also enjoyed my sister’s stuffing, but this year we were just four seated around our table for dinner.

Like many people this year, we visited with our extended family through Zoom on Thanksgiving Day (mother- and father-in-law on Nantucket, niece and husband in Denver, brother- and sister-in-law and nephew in New Canaan, and Katie and Matt in West Hartford were represented on the Zoom call along with me, Ted, and Sam), but we really missed spending time with family in person on Nantucket, where we usually head the morning after Thanksgiving.

Many of my neighbors have had their holiday decorations up for a week or more – likely in an effort to create as much brightness and holiday joy as soon as and for as long as possible – and we actually started our decorating this weekend. I’m pretty sure it’s the earliest ever.

Ted and Millie celebrate Ted’s birthday at GastroPark. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Saturday was my husband’s birthday, and it was beautiful weather. We both had a chance to run in the morning, and then it was warm enough to have our coffee and breakfast on our patio (with a bit of help from our propane heater) for probably the last time until spring. We did some Small Business Saturday shopping in the Center and Blue Back Square, posed for a virtual photo with Santa and Mrs. Claus,  and then enjoyed some great margaritas and Mexican food at GastroPark with both kids in the evening. It was so much fun to be able to bring Millie with us, too!

Ted and Ronni with Santa and Mrs. Claus in Blue Back Square

This part of what I wrote last year, and in previous years, is still true, and resonates even in this strangest of holiday seasons: Traditions change and evolve, but that’s okay and doesn’t make them any less special. As this season of thankfulness and giving really gets underway, I hope to appreciate those traditions and focus on the joy, not the craziness of this time of year. … I hope to take some deep breaths, and enjoy the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, lights, and spirit of the holiday season. And whatever holidays you celebrate, I hope you can do that, too.

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Read last week’s tip and feature on shopping small and shopping local 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: The Gift of Experience

Who doesn’t love receiving gifts?  The excitement of unboxing the latest electronic device or a piece of trendy apparel or an accessory is something we can all appreciate. There is an often overlooked gift that people also enjoy: the gift of experience. While most of us could use an exotic getaway, that may be better-suited for a later date – but there are many experience-based activities and services offered right here in our community. Wellness, beauty, and medical spas are currently offering services in a comfortable and safe environment to fill your pampering needs. Many other mindfulness and wellness based businesses and organizations are offering classes and workshop virtually and in-person. With the new year fast approaching, you can give someone special or yourself the gift of renewal.

The Medspa is located at 65 Raymond Rd. in Blue Back Square. Courtesy photo

Keeping it in the Community: Pampering in a safe environment at the Medspa

The Medspa has continued to expand, and has moved twice since opening in a small room at the Delamar West Hartford Hotel in 2017, and partner and Chief Operating Officer Roni Rodman credits an intense commitment to safety and a referral system based on word-of-mouth as well as a strong social media presence as factors in continued success despite the pandemic.

The Medspa at 65 Raymond Rd. behind the Cheesecake Factory, occupies nearly 3,000 square feet with a variety of rooms for different treatments. The Medspa moved there in February, after occupying temporary space at the corner of Memorial and Isham after leaving the Delamar and while the current space was being built from the ground up.

It’s the Medspa’s only location, but Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Glen Brooks, who is a partner in the business with Rodman, also has a survival spa in Longmeadow, MA.

The Medspa. Courtesy photo (we-ha.com file photo)

“I run the day-to-day operations, from day-to-day patient care, marketing, and business insights, and my amazing partner overseas the clinical operations, conducts treatments, and is part of every decision we make,” Rodman said. “We are the ONLY Medspa that has a plastic surgeon on site and is overseen by a plastic surgeon.”

When COVID hit, and initially closed down operations just after the Medspa moved to its new location, the team immediately jumped into gear with a focus on safety and health, for both the team and patients.

“We have issued tremendous and robust safety protocols where we do not allow anyone to walk in without answering a list of safety questions via text,” Rodman said. “We also only allow one patient in at a time and sanitize every door handle from front to back and all rooms, top to bottom after each patient. We take and document temperatures of each patient, have them sanitize their hands at our sani-station in front and we at the Medspa all wear N95 Masks. We do not wear surgical masks as the N95 offers the greatest protection. We take great pride in how we keep everything disinfected from front to back and after every patient, regardless if they touch anything.”

Rodman said while it takes time and money, nothing is a substitute for safety. The disinfectant used at the Medspa is Cavicide – the solution that’s used to clean dental equipment.

The Medspa. Courtesy photo (we-ha.com file photo)

Most of the marketing budget is spent on social media, Rodman said, and they stick to a monthly budget.

“Most of our patients today do come from referrals, which we so appreciate,” said Rodman. “We have such wonderful clients that really care as much about us as we do about them. We also work closely with Amy Grey from Radio 104.1.  She’s amazing and loves our Medspa so much she brags about us on her radio show, ‘Amy and Holden in the Morning.’  What we love about Amy is she is real. She won’t ever advertise anything she either doesn’t believe in or hasn’t done for herself. She is so real and credible and it shows.”

Having the right team is also a key to continued success of the Medspa, Rodman said. That includes Shelly Carbone, a nurse injector who is a former Mrs. America, and Physician Assistant Suzanne Walker.

Courtesy of The Medspa. (we-ha.com file photo)

“We love Suzanne as she offers her clinical assessments of our patients before anyone gets treated and is amazing with CoolSculpting, Botox, Fillers, Microneedling and PRP Hair Restoration. We recently hired Lynn Cusano who has many years as a Nurse Injector and really adds such skill and spirit to our Medspa. If you want Coolsculpting, we have Lois Brooks, who is married to our doctor, and specializes in Fitness and Coolsculpting only. If you want the best facial, waxing or eyebrow lamination in the state, make sure you visit with our incredibly talented aesthetician, Saint Baez. We keep the glue together with Sandy Sokoloff, Aesthetician and Medspa Office Manager. She keeps us all in line and on task as well as being our Safety Officer for the Medspa. And finally, local mom Jill Cheng who does all of our behind the scenes protocols and patient outreach,” Rodman said.

“Patients know how much we care and we have never been busier,” said Rodman. “COVID has brought many people into our serene, safe sanctuary to relax and pamper themselves. We have done a lot of injectables as we are in the Zoom world now,” she said, and many people are looking for something they can do for themselves, in a very safe environment.

While the one-patient-at-a-time rule does cause some delays in scheduling treatments, they feel it’s the best.

Rodman said she and the team feel lucky, and fortunate.

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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:

Woof Gang is fully stocked with holiday treats and toys. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • There are new owners at Woof Gang Bakery and Grooming, and they are working to make the store as welcoming as possible to the community – both the two- and the four-legged customers. Renata and Alex Ikonomidis bought the business from the previous owners as of Nov. 2. The couple, who live in Avon, moved to Connecticut four ago. They’re originally from Brazil, but left San Paolo about 12 years ago to move to Knoxville for Alex’s job with General Electric. He now works for GE in Windsor. Now that they’re settled here, Woof Gang is Renata’s chance return to her retail roots, which she gave up when they left Brazil. Why a pet business? “Until three years ago I was not a pet person,” Alex said. Then he gave in to family pressure and they got a dog (Becci, a mini Shih Tzu). “That completely changed my perspective about pets … if someone like me can understand what a pet means to the family, and now with the pandemic people are even more attached,” Alex said. “They are a stress ball, they are a therapist …” That understanding of how important a pet is, how they help children learn responsibility and accountability, and how they are key members of families, underscores the atmosphere the Ikonomidis family is creating at Woof Gang, where the bakery and salon are both intended to provide pets with special treatment. Alex said he and Renata are focused on improving the customer experience, building their presence on social media, and adding home delivery as an option. Even a seemingly small thing – like adding a second computer in the store – can make a big difference in customer experience, and that’s what they are looking to do, Alex said. As an example, he said, while one person may be booking an appointment, someone else doesn’t need to wait to check out. Grooming is also a focus. “The groomers drive our store’s customer experience,” Alex said. “That first interaction is very important,” he said, noting that when pets arrive for their appointments, groomers will have already checked the notes from the last visit to ensure they can make the next visit as comfortable as possible. For the benefit of the humans, Alex said, “We are in conversations with food distributors to provide samples for all the foods we carry in the store. Those are small details that differentiate us as a neighborhood pet store. … We want that personal interaction with the community. You’re not just a number.” Woof Gang, located at 62 Isham Rd., is open seven days a week, and offers grooming every day as well. Appointments are required for grooming and other spa services (tooth brushing is included), but nail trimming can be done for walk-ins. And as the holiday shopping season gets fully into swing, Alex said they are fully stocked with Christmas cookies – in an assortment of flavors – and toys. Follow on Facebook or Instagram (@wgbwesthartford) for updates. (I need to add that when I walked into Woof Gang over the weekend to take some photos I had no idea that a portrait of my former dog, Scarlett, was hanging on the wall. I was already planning to feature the business, but this was just icing on the [pup]cake.)

Portrait of Scarlett by Patty Swanson Photography hanging on the wall of Woof Gang.

The sign is now up at Wurst Haus on LaSalle Road. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • There’s still no opening date set, but the sign is now up at Wurst Haus, the Bean Restaurant Group concept which will taking over the former McLadden’s space at 37 LaSalle Rd. space in West Hartford Center, hopefully by the end of the year. The sign going up means progress, and I’ve been craving schnitzel so I hope it’s soon!

Facebook photo of West Hartford Fire Department assisting with Juniper Homecare Thanksgiving meal delivery.

  • Props to Juniper Homecare for their 14th annual delivery of Thanksgiving meals! On Thursday morning, in the pouring rain, 15 volunteers – including Juniper Homecare staff, members of the West Hartford Fire Department, and state Rep.-elect Kate Farrar – delivered 215 meals to those in need of a turkey dinner.
  • Two adjacent parcels totalling just under an acre at the edge of West Hartford Center were sold last week, and the new owners are planning to redevelop the property for mixed use. West Hartford resident Brian Zelman, of Zelman Real Estate, partnered with Avner Krohn of JaskoDevelopment and Richard Korris (also a West Hartford resident) to purchase 920 and 924 Farmington Ave., near the northwest intersection of Farmington Avenue and Trout Brook Drive. There are currently office buildings on each property (1950s/early 1960s era structures), and according to Zelman they plan to  raze the two existing buildings and construct a mixed-use building with commercial occupancy on the ground floor and several floors of luxury apartments. The planning and design work is in progress and more information will be shared through community outreach in early 2021. 

Work is beginning on the future Toro Loco at 22 Raymond Rd. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • Permits are in progress and work is beginning at 22 Raymond Rd., where Toro Loco Casita will open in the space next to Whole Foods that has long been vacant but previously was the site of Petals and Paws. More information about the Mexican/Spanish restaurant can be found in this previous column.
  • I wanted to share this Thanksgiving message from Foodshare: “From all of us at Foodshare we want to say THANK YOU. Because of the generosity of our community, we were able to safely provide 20,158 of our neighbors with a thanksgiving meal, and your generosity did not end there. Foodshare is excited to announce that we also reached our campaign goal of over $600,000, which is equivalent to 1.5 million meals. This critical funding will help support our efforts to provide individuals struggling with food insecurity healthy food options throughout the holiday season and the year. In a year filled with uncertainty, what hasn’t changed is the heart of this community.

  • West Hartford Public Schools has generated thousands of funds to support PJ Day for the Kids and every year the effort has grown. While schools are still doing PJ Day – split by cohorts at the middle and high schools – there is another way to support the effort. Harry’s Bishops Corner is teaming up with West Hartford Public Schools, and for every Harry’s Bishops Corner gift card purchased (minimum value $25) between Nov. 24 and Dec. 24, you will receive a bonus gift card. Harry’s is giving customers the option to keep the gift card, or donated the funds to PJ Day on behalf of WHPS. “It’s that easy! Thank you for your help, support and generosity! Together, we can make a big difference!!” organizers said in an email.
  • The owners of West Hartford-based Citizen’s Oil Co-op have announced that they will be donating each new member’s application fee to the Town That Cares Fund/Food Pantry during the month of December. The Co-op, a family-owned business, uses its purchasing power to save members money on heating oil, propane, and other utilities. According to Citizen’s Oil Co-op, they work with several full-service companies that cover the town of West Hartford, and also operate throughout the state of Connecticut. “Historically, Citizen’s Oil Co-op is about 40 cents less per gallon compared to the Connecticut state average for heating oil,” the company states. they also offer a referral program, discounts on electricity, and home energy audits. The company’s motto is: “Saving. More. Together.”

Future Ulta Beauty at 1553-1559 New Britain Ave. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

  • I’ve been anxiously awaiting the opening of Ulta Beauty at 1553-1559 New Britain Ave., and stopped by to check on the progress a few days ago. The landscaping that was approved by the Town Council in late September has been installed and the awnings are up, but it looks like there’s work to be done before the store itself will be able to open.
  • ICYMI, if you want to shop local there will be a great opportunity to support small local businesses at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society‘s inaugural holiday market next weekend. Click here for the details.
  • Stroll Your Own Way is now underway, and there is a robust schedule of events – some ongoing throughout the next four weeks, and others on specific days only – taking the place of the town’s usual one-day Holiday Stroll.  The complete story can be found here.
  • Click on the “Business” tab for all of the business news related to West Hartford.

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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