We-Ha.com looks back at West Hartford’s most read stories of 2016.
By Ronni Newton
As the calendar year comes to an end, I always think it’s interesting to take a glance into the rearview mirror to see which West Hartford stories and issues attracted the most attention.
We-Ha.com was officially launched in September 2014, and in our second full year of operation we experienced tremendous growth in readership. The year is not quite over, but since Jan. 1, 2016, the We-Ha.com site has had more than 2.4 million page views! This time last year we were proud to report 750,000 page views. If I’m doing the math correctly, that’s 220 percent growth!
This year’s stories covered a wide range of topics, including business openings and closings, events, features on residents, sports, school activities, missing persons, burglaries and other crimes, sports, animals, and weather. We also covered several sudden and tragic deaths of West Hartford residents, as well as the passing of several iconic business leaders.
These stories touched everyone’s lives in different ways and left impressions that won’t soon be forgotten.
It’s hard to decide how many stories to highlight but since we did 15 in 2015, it seems to make sense to highlight the 16 most read and most talked about stories of 2016. Are you surprised at any of these? We’d love to hear what you consider the top stories of the year.
- The top story of 2016 in terms of page views was a deeply tragic one. Jeffny Pally, a 2015 Hall High School graduate who was a sophomore at UConn’s Storrs campus, was fatally injured when she was struck by a UConn Fire Department SUV early on the morning of Sunday, Oct. 16. A touching vigil was held on campus several days later, where family members and friends remembered the warm and caring young adult whose life ended far too soon.
- Five juveniles and two adults were arrested by West Hartford Police in September in conjunction with an overnight car burglary spree in the year’s second-most read story, and as part of the same incident police also made a drug arrest after observing a transaction while waiting for a warrant. The arrests took place at 1195 New Britain Ave. (corner of New Britain Avenue and Westgate Street), a residence that has been the subject of several other stories, including a late-March stand-off that involved the SWAT team, and a shooting on Dec. 2.
- Another tragedy involving a young West Hartford resident received the third highest number of page views. Melissa Molin, a 2012 Hall High School graduate and senior at Colby-Sawyer College, died after she lost control of her SUV and crashed on an icy New Hampshire highway on April 4. The kick wall at Hall was painted in June to memorialize Molin.
- Finally a positive story! Food and drink are always popular subjects in West Hartford, and coming in at no. 4 was news that West Hartford residents Ben and Joy Braddock planned to open Hog River Brewing Co. in the Parkville section of Hartford. The brewery and taproom opened Aug. 20, and has turned into a very popular destination for people throughout the area.
- Story no. 5 was one that received national – and international – attention. West Hartford resident and CCSU history professor Matt Warshauer has become renowned for the Halloween decorations at his North Main Street home, and this year’s overtly political tableau, which included a “Trump wall,” was a very popular pre-election story. Following Election Day, Warshauer transformed his scene into a message of hope.
- Coming in at no. 6 was the news we broke about the Sears and Sears Automobile in Corbin’s Corner being redeveloped and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th and REI as the first two confirmed tenants. If we were to combine that story with the next one – about Shake Shack also signing a lease for “The Corbin Collection,” the news would have actually been in second place overall. Sears will be closing in January so the redevelopment will begin shortly, and look for news about other confirmed tenants coming soon as well.
- Another tragedy was also widely read – a double shooting that took place on Jackson Avenue in late June. The female victim sustained only minor injury and was treated and released from an area hospital but police reported several days later that the male victim, Michael Fuller, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound sustained in the incident.
- The news that Park & Oak Restaurant would be opening at 14-16 Oakwood Ave. garnered plenty of excitement and was one of the top stories of 2016. Chef David Borselle, formerly of Àvert Brasserie, opened the restaurant right after Thanksgiving, and reviews continue to be excellent.
- Sometimes video adds a powerful dimension to a story, and that was definitely the case in the story about two men seen on surveillance attempting to enter a Beverly Road home in November. The house was occupied at the time, and the homeowner woke up shortly after the incident and called police as soon as he saw the alert from his Nest Cam. Police released the footage – and it’s very scary to watch. Two suspected car burglars were apprehended by West Hartford Police just a few days later in the same neighborhood, and police were investigating to see if they could be tied to the Beverly Road incident.
- West Hartford resident Anne Dombrofski was seriously injured when she fell off her bicycle on Cornerstone Drive in late August, and tragically succumbed to those injuries just a few days later.
- Food is a much happier topic to read about! There’s nothing like a good bagel, and news that Goldberg’s Gourmet opened in Blue Back Square comes in at no. 12 on our list of most popular stories. Goldberg’s co-owners Chad Kirby and Dan Taskila made some minor renovations as they transitioned their Posh Pizza franchise in the same space to Goldberg’s which opened in early July.
- There have been multiple stories about the UConn West Hartford campus and its possible future uses which added together would definitely come in very near the top of this list, but on its own the story about the town’s agreement in early May to purchase the property for a negotiated price of $5 million came in at no. 13. The due diligence phase of the agreement was extended and is still ongoing after the discovery of a higher-than-expected level of PCBs in some areas, and anticipate more news to come in early 2017 as plans for the 58-acre property continue to develop.
- On average Business Buzz is the most well-read feature on We-Ha.com, and added together would likely take the top spot on this list. The April 18 column – with news that included Goldberg’s, Moe’s, Patrissi Nursery, and more – comes in at no. 14 on its own. I love writing the column, and the challenge of pulling together interesting tidbits of news that interest readers. I tend to do a bit of editorializing in the introduction, and it appears that people read it because sometimes I meet people for the first time and they already know things about me, or my kids, or my dog, that were included in the column!
- The closing of Moe’s was first confirmed in the April 18 Business Buzz column referenced above, and the Blue Back Square restaurant officially closed on Cinco de Mayo, May 5. Franchise owner Matt Rusconi has said multiple times that he would like to open another location in West Hartford and we will continue to follow up and report any news as soon as it’s available. The space formerly occupied by Moe’s at 54 Memorial Rd. in Blue Back Square has been transformed into INDIA Restaurant and Bar, which opened on Dec. 16. INDIA is, in my opinion and the opinion of many who have already eaten there, a definite must-try!
- Finally, in the 16th spot is another police story. This one, however, is not about a crime. In July, the West Hartford Police Department welcomed its newest class of recruits – all four of whom were women.
Food stories continue to receive plenty of attention, and a few just missed making the top list. They include a sneak peek inside Bar Louie just before it opened in mid-April, the opening of speakeasy/Roaring Twenties-styled Noble & Co. in November, the official Town Council approval of Chick-fil-A’s application for its New Park Avenue location in May (construction has been progressing and we will report on the opening as soon as we have details), and the opening of Savoy Pizzeria and Craft Bar in October.
There have also been several closings/ownership changes of longtime family businesses. Thousands read the story about Dana Gordon’s decision to close Sedgwick Cleaners, a 30-plus year family business, and Dec. 31 is actually their last day open. Sally & Bob’s Eatery was owned by Rhonda and Ronnie Zieky for more than 30 years, and before that was owned by Rhonda’s parents, but when the Ziekys decided to retire and sell, West Hartford couple Helen Brower and Cesar Contreras purchased the restaurant – an opportunity that Brower said was a “dream come true.”
The surprise announcement in January that Scott Slifka planned to step down as mayor was, not surprisingly, also a very well-read story.
Looking back at the top stories is, for me, a great review of the year. A few of my personal favorite stories include the rescue of several swimmers off the Puerto Rico Coast by resident Sheri Shea, her son, and her son’s friend, and the “Getting Personal” interview with new Mayor Shari Cantor. Another top story – a sad one with deep personal meaning that was one of the toughest I have ever had to write – was the tribute I wrote to my friend Lucio Lefante who passed away from brain cancer in October.
A final mention of another top story – about a top town – was the news in September that West Hartford was included in the top 20 of Time/Money’s 2016 list of top places to live!
I’m excited to see what 2017 will bring. I’m sure there will be plenty of great stories to tell, and I look forward to another year of bringing hyperlocal news to West Hartford!
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