We-Ha.com looks back at West Hartford’s most read stories of 2017.
By Ronni Newton
Happy New Year!
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 third full year of operation we continue to experience very strong growth in readership. We had fewer tragedies and breaking news stories in 2017 than in 2016 (which is a good thing), yet have consistently exceeded 250,000 page views per month!
If you click on the links below you may notice that some of our top stories from early in the 2017 don’t seem to have any Facebook shares, but that’s because we changed from an “http” to an “https” site in late October, and the change in URL wiped out the record of the Facebook shares.
This year’s stories covered a wide range of topics, including business openings and closings, events, features on residents, sports, school activities, burglaries and other crimes, sports, animals, and weather.
These stories touched everyone’s lives in different ways and left impressions that won’t soon be forgotten.
Summer interns Gillian Hixson and Jackie Palermo contributed some great content during 2017, and we are excited to welcome Marlon Pitter, who has recently joined We-Ha.com as a sports reporter and has already been covering Conard and Hall basketball and hockey.
It’s hard to decide how many stories to highlight but since we did 15 in 2015 and 16 in 2016, it seems to make sense to highlight the 17 most read and most talked about stories of 2017. Are you surprised at any of these? We’d love to hear what you consider the top stories of the year.
- The post that received the highest number of page views in calendar year 2017 was a tragic one. It was the obituary for Hayley Mullins, a 22-year-old West Hartford resident and 2013 Hall High School graduate who passed away unexpectedly on Oct. 28, 2017.
- The second-highest number of page views in 2017 came from a much more positive story, and not surprisingly in this foodie town it was a food/drink story! In April we announced the exciting plans for Gastropark – West Hartford’s first food truck park. Although Gastropark was not able to open in 2017, plans are well underway. Gastro Park Holdings LLC did purchase the property at 637 New Park Ave. in late August, and according to the Gastropark website, the venue “is set to open in 2018 and is will be located in West Hartford’s up-and-coming design district, just off of New Park Avenue. In this stylish outdoor venue, the whole family will be able to enjoy an ever-changing selection of food trucks, a huge selection of craft beers and specialty cocktails. The venue will also be dog-friendly, so there will be something for everyone.” We will definitely keep readers up to date on this story!
- The state budget debacle – and that’s a kind word to describe it – was of great interest to West Hartford residents. I haven’t added up the number of budget stories I wrote in 2017, but it’s definitely more than I could count on my fingers. By the time the budget had passed, I had actually memorized the figure that was West Hartford’s FY 2017 Educational Cost Sharing grant, which each time a new budget was proposed would be reduced to varying degrees. The governor’s first proposed budget and its impact on West Hartford, which the mayor and town manager called “unfathomable,” received the most page views of any budget story this year, and came in no. 3 overall. The story about the bipartisan budget that was finally passed in late October also was widely read. And as the calendar turns to 2018, town officials are already at work on next year’s budget!
- Each week we publish the most recent residential real estate transactions in West Hartford, along with a photo of the highest-priced home sold that week. It’s of such interest to people that the “Real Estate” category on We-Ha.com has received the fourth-most page views on the site.
- Stories about restaurants continue to be of great interest to West Hartford residents, and coming at no. 5 was the announcement in late January that Ocho Café would be opening in the former Bertucci’s space in Bishops Corner, bringing fresh and flavorful, uniquely prepared Mexican food and a great selection of tequila drinks to West Hartford. A follow-up story when the restaurant actually opened in June, including photos, can be read here. It’s gotten some great reviews from residents, and my family gives it a thumbs-up, too!
- Interestingly enough, if I combined the page views for this no. 6 story with the one above – both of which relate to the same Bishops Corner location – it would have actually come in as the most-read story of the year. On Jan. 9, we broke the news that Bertucci’s would be closing its doors on Jan. 11.
- In seventh place was the tragic news on Jan. 25 that West Hartford resident Andrej Cavarkapa had been struck by a car while running at night along Asylum Avenue through the intersection of Trout Brook Drive. It was his 30th birthday. Sadly, Cavarkapa, who had been a science teacher at RHAM High School succumbed to his injuries and passed away on Jan. 31, a story which comes in at no. 15 on this list.
- Back to the much happier topic of food for story no. 8, the news in early January that Johnny Vaughan, a West Hartford resident and owner of Vaughan’s Public House in Hartford, would be opening Vaughan’s Pies & Pints in the former Backstage Pizza space in West Hartford Center. The restaurant opened in late June. I am personally looking forward to once more hanging out on the great patio once the weather warms up again!
- Police stories typically get plenty of attention, especially those involving a successful capture of a suspect like the Jan. 23 story of a State Police K-9 aiding in the capture of burglary suspect Cody Farley, a West Hartford resident who at the time already had three outstanding warrants.
- As this list develops, it’s clear that January 2017 was a busy month for news in West Hartford. That included the West Hartford Town Council’s approval on Jan. 24 of the plans for redevelopment of the former Sears and Sears Automobile Center property in Corbin’s Corner. News about the Corbin Collection, which is still under construction and should be ready for its first tenants sometime in the middle of 2018, had also been high on the list of top news in the 2016 roundup, including 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 and Shake Shack also signing a lease for “The Corbin Collection.
- West Hartford’s Chick-fil-A opened in early February, and this advance story about the opening plans was one of the top stories of 2017! Owner/operator Daryl Jackson has quickly become an active, respected, and generous member of the West Hartford business community. His philanthropic efforts extend to his personal life as well. In September, Jackson and his wife donated $100,000 to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, as a thank you for saving the life of their infant daughter, Olivia, who was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and whose survival they consider to be a miracle.
- NBC Connecticut has its headquarters in West Hartford, and many of the station’s employees live in town. In June, veteran news anchor and reporter Brad Drazen, a longtime West Hartford resident, shared with We-Ha.com his plans to leave the station after 17 years. Drazen is now employed as associate director of communications and public relations at United Technologies.
- As a whole Business Buzz is the most well-read feature on We-Ha.com, and added together the 2017 columns would definitely take the top spot on this list. The March 6 column – with news that included the opening of Milkcraft, The Simple Greek, GOLFTEC, and more – was read by nearly 11,000 people and comes in at no. 13 on its own. I love writing the column, and the challenge of pulling together interesting tidbits of news that I hope will – if not surprise – will at least interest readers. There are some readers who have asked me to discontinue the personal details that I often share in the introduction, but a far greater number tell me that they enjoy reading it so for now it will continue. The news part always begins at the bullet points, for those who prefer to skip over the intro.
- Another restaurant closing made the list of the top stories of 2017. On a warm and sunny Monday, July 10, Besito’s employees arrived to open the restaurant for the day and found the doors locked. Besito closed for good that day and although it appeared the closing was abrupt and caused by an inability to negotiate lease terms with its landlord, Starwood Retail Partners (Blue Back Square), we learned the next day that Besito’s owners were already involved in litigation with Blue Back Square, and owed more than $250,000 in rent. Legal proceedings are continuing and as of now a pretrial conference is scheduled for Jan. 22, 2018.
- No. 15 was the sad news (noted above) that Andrej Cavarkapa, who was struck by a car while running on Jan. 25, his 30th birthday, succumbed to his injuries and passed away on Jan. 31.
- We don’t get too many comments directly on We-Ha.com stories (although many people engage in quite a bit of commentary when we share the stories on Facebook), but a story about West Hartford considering a “SMART” (save money and reduce trash) approach to waste management garnered quite a bit of commentary. There was quite an uproar, and more than 100 residents attended a public information session on Jan. 18 to speak out about the issue. Although a change was not made in 2017, the issue of reducing the volume of trash in town has not disappeared. Curbside textile recycling has now been implemented, and a test food waste recycling program is winding down, but it remains to be seen whether or not residents will voluntarily increase their recycling volume without some measure like SMART creating a greater incentive.
- Last but not least, no. 17 is another food story. It appears that Mexican restaurant stories were quite a trend in 2017, and coming in as the final top story of the year was the very welcome news from franchise owner Matt Rusconi that Moe’s Southwest Grill would be returning to West Hartford, officially opening in Bishops Corner on Cinco de Mayo, just a year after the Blue Back Square location closed.
There were thousands of other stories published in 2017 on We-Ha.com, positive stories as well as tragic ones, that impacted the lives of our residents.
Just missing the top-17 was the tribute to Cricket Press owner Tim Confessore, a lifelong West Hartford resident who died of cancer on Aug. 2.
Some other top stories include Zest 280’s reopening in February as a “mission-based” restaurant, offering a second chance with training in the culinary arts to formerly incarcerated people through a Community Partners in Action externship program; this year’s version of Matt Halloween house – the pirate “Ship of State”; and resident Dawn Conlon’s and her friend Chelsea Lamson’s dramatic tale of their escape from the Las Vegas mass shooting during the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert on Oct. 1.
And there was plenty more restaurant news which caught the attention of readers – including the opening of Cook and the Bear in Blue Back Square, Zohara in West Hartford Center, and Zaytoon’s Bistro on Park Road. Lastly, there were dozens of stories about Los Imperios, a lengthy saga that included several court actions and loss of the establishment’s liquor license following a remonstrance hearing, and a story that may be nearing its end with the possible eviction of Los Imperios as early as next week for failure to comply with a court-ordered schedule of outstanding rent payments.
I’m excited to see what 2018 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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