We-Ha.com looks back at West Hartford’s most read stories of 2019.
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 interest and attention.
We-Ha.com was officially launched in September 2014, and in our fifth full year of operation we continue to experience very strong growth in readership. Some statistics that make me particularly proud: In 2019 we had well over 2 million page views, by 644,717 visitors, who spent an average of 2 minutes and 28 seconds on each page they read.
We now have 9,194 Facebook followers and 3,221 Twitter followers, and subscriptions to our free Monday/Wednesday/Friday email newsletter continue to increase.
There are always plenty of stories to cover in West Hartford, and this year’s stories were both heart-warming and heart-breaking, and included coverage of business openings and closings, events, parking and traffic, features about residents, sports, school activities, fires, 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.
Many thanks to Marlon Pitter, who has been our sports reporter since late 2017 and each season continues to provide great coverage of a wide range of Conard and Hall boys and girls sports. Photography intern Hunter Marotto has also has an enormous impact on our ability to tell stories visually with his fantastic images.
Thank you also to Jeff Lovanio and Ryan Keating, whose Experience We-Ha podcast has now hit its 70th episode. Podcasts have added an entirely new dimension to the We-Ha.com site.
Since I also took on the editor role at West Hartford LIFE last spring, we’ve also increased our overall collaboration with Turley Publications. We’ve been lucky to have been able to publish multiple stories by Ted Glanzer and David Heuschkel, among others. We’ve also benefitted from the wonderful contributions of interns Zoe Pierce, Dexter McCann, and Lauren Cohen, and look forward to contributions from Asaad Hicks this coming year.
We appreciate your continued support, and we have some great ideas for how to make 2020 even better! Please don’t ever hesitate to email your suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are our Top 10 of 2019:
- Tragedies have topped the list each year, and in 2019 the post with the most page views was published on Jan. 9 – the obituary for 12-year-old Brigid Curtin, who died Dec. 17, 2018. This year, just before the anniversary of their daughter’s death, Brigid’s parents, Tim Curtin and Jane Murphy, spoke to We-Ha.com about their plans to support an outdoor classroom at Westmoor Park to honor her memory. To date the GoFundMe campaign combined with other donations has raised more than half of the $250,000 in funds needed for the project. Another heart-warming side story was the lighting of luminaries on the night of Dec. 17, 2019, organized by a group of Sedgwick parents.
- Most-read post no. 2 has a completely different tone: the 2019 Ultimate Guide to West Hartford Happy Hours! That post, compiled by Jeff Lovanio, our partner with Experience We-Ha, was read nearly 17,000 times since it was published on Feb. 1, 2019.
- Story no. 3 also has a happy tone – a very musical one – and was also published in February 2019, when Hall High School graduate Erin Bellucci had the fairy-tale surprise experience of getting to sing for Michael Bublé at Madison Square Garden. Bublé loved her performance, and I was also thrilled when my story got a shout-out on the TODAY Show! The immensely talented Bellucci is currently completing her music education degree at the University of Delaware, and it will be exciting to see what her future holds.
- The fourth most read item is a business story about a closing. Many people thought it might be an April Fool’s joke when on April 1, 2019, we announced that Grant’s Restaurant and Bar, the namesake establishment of West Hartford restauranteur Billy Grant, had closed its doors. It was not a joke, but we are very thankful that Billy Grant remains an active presence in West Hartford through Restaurant Bricco (he also owns and operates Bricco Trattoria in Glastonbury) and his involvement in many local charities. Information about a new tenant for the former Grant’s space at 977 Farmington Avenue has not yet been revealed.
- A story about the opening of Zaytoon’s Bistro at 165 Park Rd., that was published more than two years ago (in August 2017) actually showed up as no. 5 on the list of 2019 top stories, after also making the top 10 in 2018. That could be in part because there were links to the restaurant story in later stories about bullet holes discovered in the front window in September 2018, and when police obtained warrants and arrested several of the suspects in November 2018. I think owners Zainab and Omar Hayajneh are wonderful people, and the food is great, and for whatever the reason I am glad people keep reading the story about their restaurant.
- Not realizing it would be on this list, I was thinking about this particular story just a few days ago as Waze had me detour off the Mass Pike at the exit for Auburn and Oxford due to a traffic jam. I had heard of those towns because of writing about West Hartford firefighter/paramedic Steeve Parent who, while off duty, helped rescue a man trapped in a burning vehicle that had gone off the road. After the extrication, Parent initiated CPR, and while the victim’s name was never released, it appeared that he was going to be okay thanks in great part to quick action by Parent.
- Business Buzz, which leads the newsletter every Monday, is as a whole the best-read feature on the We-Ha.com site, and some of the columns on their own have received enough page views to make the year’s top-10 list. On May 13, when we announced the plans for Arethusa to open a dairy store and cafe in part of the former Toy Chest location at 975 Farmington Ave., the column went “viral,” at least by community standards. For those unfamiliar with Arethusa, owners George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis, now former top executives with Manolo Blahnik, bought some farmland in Litchfield about 20 years ago, which led to the creation of Arethusa. They now also have two buildings in Bantam, where the dairy operation is now located along with a retail store, the bakery and cafe Arethusa a mano, and the acclaimed restaurant Arethusa al tavolo. The farm also now includes Arethusa Gardens which supplies Arethusa al tavolo with fresh produce. Arethusa wants to be sure everything is done right with the build-out of the space, and I hope to report on the opening in the not-too-distant future.
- A very recent story comes in at no. 8 on the list of this year’s top stories: the opening of Frida. The authentic Mexican restaurant, named for artist Frida Kahlo and located in the former Tapas space at 1150 New Britain Ave., just opened in December. It’s already a busy destination and getting some great reviews from diners.
- The Business Buzz column on March 4, which included the initial announcement of plans for the former Tapas to be transformed into Frida’s as well as the announcement of plans for opening of Float Forty One in Bishops Corner (opening in January!) came in at no. 9 on the list. That column also coincided with the first of what has turned into a monthly appearance to talk about West Hartford business news on NBC Connecticut’s CT Live! which airs daily at 11:30 a.m. and is broadcast from Westfarms. I’ll be back on the show chatting with hosts Taylor Kinzler and Jimmy Marlow V on Jan. 13.
- Rounding out the top 10 is the story about the launch of WeHa Wheels, West Hartford’s unique new shuttle service. Since the free service (it’s sponsor-supported) began on Aug. 2, it’s been very well received. A few things have changed since the launch – particularly the elimination of the 2-mile distance restriction for those who want to use the shuttle to go to and from West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square. Online reservations have been added, and Thursday operation has been swapped for Sunday (brunch time) hours for the winter season as well. Visit www.wehawheels.com to make a reservation or for more details.
In addition to the top stories, on an overall basis analytics show that readers visited the “Real Estate” and “Business” categories more than any others.
The top stories are just a snapshot from among the thousands of stories about what took place in town over the course of the year. Close behind were stories about a swatting incident at Conard, the kind gesture of a resident building a bench so young Finn Daly could look at his American flag (this one got national news exposure), the opening of Target in Bishops Corner, updates on the Ideanomics Fintech Village development, and the stop of a man on motor vehicle charges who was found to have a loaded gun.
I’m excited to see what 2020 will bring – and I already know it’s going to be an exciting year for my family with several graduations and my daughter’s wedding. 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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