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West Hartford’s Top Stories of 2023

West Hartford sign. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

As 2023 comes to an end, We-Ha.com looks back at West Hartford’s most read stories of the year.

By Ronni Newton

Happy New Year, and a hearty welcome to 2024!

I’ve been a journalist in West Hartford for more than 20 years now – but I am always at least somewhat surprised when I take a look back at the stories and topics that most resonated with our readers. I try not to focus too much on statistics, but I do avidly (and daily) review our stats on Google Analytics – although I wait until the end of the year for a complete look-back.

Animal stories are always popular, so one thing that did not surprise me at all was that a bear story topped this year’s list. Sad and tragic news articles also were among the top stories, and four Business Buzz columns were top stories of the year.

As usual there were quite a few food-related and business stories also on top of the list.

While the stories that take me the longest to write – such as coverage of the TPZ wetlands hearing on the 1700 Asylum Avenue portion of the former UConn campus that included 10 hours of time spent at Town Hall plus another five hours watching the one hearing I wasn’t able to attend (and probably just as many hours writing about the hearings), Town Council votes on controversial topics, budget stories – don’t always generate the most page views, I consider providing that type of coverage to be of paramount importance. I pledge to ensure that We-Ha.com will continue to have thorough coverage of topics important to this town, written for the West Hartford audience.

We-Ha.com will celebrate our 10th anniversary in 2024! We officially launched in September 2014, although I started publishing  stories to the site a few months prior to that, and after nine-plus years of operation I’m so excited that we continue to see incredible growth in readership.

Last year I had an unspoken goal of topping 3 million page views – and we reached 3,070,719 by late December. This year, as of Dec. 26, we achieved 3,395,912 page views from roughly 1.1 million unique visitors!

Our social media following continues to expand as well. We have 14,720 Facebook followers, 4.4K followers on X (formerly Twitter, and I can’t figure out how to locate a more exact number), and despite my [still] not doing a very good job updating it, we have 3,674 followers on our Instagram account (@westhartfordite). Subscriptions to our free Monday / Wednesday / Friday email newsletter continue to grow as well and we send out close to 30,000 newsletters a week.

We’ve had thousands of viewers on the We-Ha roundtables that John Lyons and I have hosted, and we hope to have more regular shows in 2024.

In collaboration with 2020 Media we launched a podcast in 2023, and you can find those episodes here as well as on your favorite podcast platform (Spotify, Apple, etc.).

We’ve also introduced a few new columns this year, including Jeff Murray’s “From the West Hartford Archives” and Harlan Levy’s “Consumer Diary.” Both quickly gained loyal followers and I am extremely grateful for the unique voices these West Hartford residents bring to the We-Ha.com site.

I am also thankful for the continued contributions of sports reporter Paul Palmer, the great work over the summer by intern Bridget Bronsdon, and the assistance of various freelancers – and Keith Griffin for taking on the interim editor role when I took an actual brief vacation in November. Many thanks to Craig Rosenberg and Howie Lam for their fantastic contributions as well.

Plans for 2024 include a refresh of our template, securing sponsorship for sports so we can expand our coverage, and the hiring of more freelance writers so we can provide additional perspective and cover more things happening in the community. If you’re interested in the details of sponsorship, contact [email protected] or [email protected] for more information.

We-Ha.com is a small, locally-owned business. The site is primarily advertiser supported and we remain committed to providing our content without a paywall. And while I try to personally stay away from that side of the business, I firmly believe that an ad on We-Ha.com is one of the best ways to get exposure in the local market (there are a lot of eyeballs on the site, and the ads appear on all pages).

Because it’s tough to survive on the advertiser-supported model, two years ago we added a way for readers to provide direct support for our mission, and we thank those who have already contributed through PressPatron.com. At the bottom of this article, and at the bottom of every article (or in the top righthand corner of the home page), there is a “Become a Supporter” button. If you are able and so inclined, we welcome your support.

Also, please don’t ever hesitate to email your suggestions or comments to me at [email protected].

Thanks for reading!!

Here are our Top 10 of 2023:

Bear on South Main Street in West Hartford Center/Blue Back Square. Courtesy of Matt Manning and YHB Investments

  1. Topping the list of most-read stories in 2023: Bear Strolls Through West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square. It was one of those “at the right place at the right time” events – and although I wrote the story about it, sadly (from my perspective) I wasn’t the one at the right place and didn’t personally witness the black bear strolling along South Main Street near the Noah Webster statue and lumbering past World of Beer on a Monday afternoon in mid-July. I very much appreciate our loyal readers who provide tips, photos, and videos – and this story, which garnered 29,690 page views, could not have been written without their contributions!
  2. The No. 2 story of the year, unfortunately, is a very sad one. On Oct. 1, Earl Exum, a man beloved to his family and so many in our community, died at age 55. I always struggle with the enormous responsibility of writing obituaries and writing the tribute – West Hartford Community Mourns Death of Earl Exum – was even harder because I have personally known Earl and Tammy Exum and their family for 20 years. The tribute was read 23,690 times, and we also published Earl’s obituary, which received more than 15,000 page views. My heart continues to go out to the Exum family, but I know Earl’s important work will leave a permanent, and positive, legacy in this town.
  3. Business Buzz has always been the overall most well-read feature on the We-Ha.com site, but this year one of the columns one its own came in at No. 3. West Hartford Business Buzz: July 3, 2023 broke the news that Le Mazet would be opening in the Arethusa space at 975 Farmington Avenue, and received 20,903 page views. Also included in that column was a very cute photo of my dog, Millie, on the beach (I don’t think that was the reason for all of the page views) and several openings and congratulations, but I am pretty sure Le Mazet (also see No. 7 below) was the reason for the page views. I’m including them all here, but also included among the top-read stories this year were the Business Buzz columns of January 30, 2023 (featuring the plans for the Americana Restaurant & Bar opening), April 17, 2023 (announcement of transition of Wurst Haus to Halfway), and September 4, 2023 (announcement of plans for transition of Flora to Birdie Lounge). Together those four columns had well over 70,000 page views, and there were many others in the top 20 for the year as well. I guess I will keep writing the column!
  4. This one really surprised me because it’s a column that was written in 2021. The page views are new this year, though, and clearly – as I said last year when a blog post written by Adria Giordano as her daughter was first embarking on her college journey in the fall of 2021 was No. 6 on our list of top stories – the written word often has impact long beyond the original publication date of those words. One Mom’s View … A Letter to My Daughter as She Leaves for College is heartfelt, touching, and includes timeless advice, and received 19,715 page views in 2023.
  5. In late 2022 there was a string of tragedies that led to the death of five people in motor vehicle-related incidents, including three who died on Christmas Day. That story, Mother and Son Among Victims in Christmas Morning 2-Car Crash in West Hartford, while published in late 2022, was still among the top-read stories in 2023. Thankfully there have not been any motor vehicle-related fatalities in West Hartford this year, and hopefully the work of the Vision Zero Task force will lead to safer roads for all users going forward.
  6. Over the past two years a family-owned Peruvian restaurant located in a former McDonald’s in the Elmwood section of West Hartford has emerged among the elite on the national culinary scene. In March 2023, it was announced that West Hartford’s Coracora Named a James Beard Finalist and that story received more than 16,000 page views. That was just one of several stories about Coracora’s success published recently. In April, Gov. Ned Lamont and other top officials visited for a celebration of Coracora’s achieving finalist status, and although they did not ultimately win the James Beard award, in December the restaurant was named not only Hartford County Restaurant of the Year but also Connecticut Restaurant of the Year at the CRAZIES awards. In 2022, Coracora and chef and co-owner Macarena Ludena were named James Beard semifinalists.
  7. Food is definitely a popular topic in West Hartford and as noted above in No. 3, the community was excited to read about plans for Le Mazet to open at 975 Farmington Avenue. In September readers were also eager to read about the actual opening in the story French Country Cuisine Arrives in West Hartford Center.
  8. West Hartford voter turnout for the November 2023 municipal election was just over 31%, but the article Municipal Election in West Hartford: What You Need to Know, which provided links to all of the completed candidate questionnaires as well as polling location details and other pertinent information, received more than 14,000 page views – a few thousand more than the number of votes cast in town! That comparison surprised me, but a deeper look at the analytics indicated that the article page was visited on average more than four times by each who viewed it.
  9. The West Hartford community loves its long-standing businesses, and the announcement of new ownership for Crown Market was certainly of interest to many readers. My interview with the new owners and managing partners for the article Crown Market Will Continue Legacy but New Owners Plan Updates garnered more than 13,400 page views. I spoke to the new owners again in December as they were preparing for the beginning of Chanukah, and indeed some of those updates such as the new cafe space and expansion of Israeli products have already been implemented.
  10. Rounding out the top 10 is another food-related story! Kilwins Brings Chocolates, Confections, and Ice Cream to West Hartford was welcome news in February, and Kilwins has proven a popular addition to Blue Back Square and owners Kathleen and Jay Allen have already become great supporters of community organizations and events.

A few other popular stories included more positive food news such as the opening of Zaytoon Mediterranean Kitchen in Elmwood in April and a story about the successful growth of Small State Provisions (owned by West Hartford resident Kevin Masse) from a cottage food business, to a small bakery at GastroPark, to the opening in September of a larger bakery and cafe in Avon. Readers don’t just gravitate to the positive, and also among the most-read stories were news of the tragic killing of West Hartford native Elan Ganales in Israel in February, and the head-on collision between a school bus and a car near Hall High School in April. The driver of the vehicle involved in the crash with the bus was arrested by warrant on Aug. 31, and is due back in court on multiple charges in January.

I know there will be plenty of news to share in 2024, including coverage of projects such as the proposed development of the former UConn campus – as well as unanticipated happenings. We continue to try to find as many as possible positive “silver lining” stories to share along with the difficult news and I’m sure there will be plenty of great stories to tell in 2024.

I look forward to another year of bringing hyperlocal news to West Hartford!

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We-Ha.com is the place to go for the latest information about West Hartford – a town that "has it all"! We-Ha.com is part of and proud of our community, and we bring a hyperlocal focus to news and features about the people, schools, businesses, real estate, sports, restaurants, charitable events, arts, and more. Contact us at: [email protected] or [email protected].

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