A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.
By Ronni Newton
It’s still March, but like many of us, I’ve got some serious spring fever!
Friday and Saturday seemed offensively cold and windy, even though the temperatures were closer to average than Sunday’s highs in the mid-50s and today’s expected highs in the upper 60s, and warm weather is forecast to continue all week long.
The crocuses in my neighbor’s yard are in full bloom, there’s a forsythia blooming on South Main Street, and my daffodils are about 6 inches high now and budding!
The nice weather is great for our local businesses, especially in the Center and Blue Back where I have definitely noticed an uptick in people on the sidewalks. I would bet that restaurants begin to put their patio furniture back out this week if they haven’t already done so.
I know there are likely many cold and raw days ahead before spring settles in for good, but let’s appreciate the nice days when we have them. And, while I’m not a fan of losing an hour of sleep, this night owl loves having more light in the evenings.
I was honored to be asked to participate in a celebrity serving event for at Donut Crazy on Sunday to benefit Friends of Feeney, a local nonprofit organization headed by Eric Feeney that helps out families in need in the community. (See more photos below.)
It’s budget season in West Hartford, and Superintendent Tom Moore released his proposed budget last Tuesday and Town Manager Matt Hart will release the town’s General Fund budget this Tuesday night.
As if budget isn’t serious enough, I don’t want to end this introduction without another serious note. I’m finding it hard not to hug people when I see them, and hard to believe that the coronavirus is really going to impact our safe and secure town of West Hartford. And while I personally have no plans to stockpile toilet paper (I really don’t get why that’s a thing right now) or anything else, I’ve been staying on top of the latest information as the COVID-19 virus spreads, makes its appearance in the state, and causes cancellation of various activities.
As of press time, the first Connecticut resident has been diagnosed with COVID-19. According to a news release from the governor’s office issued early Sunday afternoon, the patient, “a resident of Wilton who is 40 to 50 years of age, is being treated at Danbury Hospital. The person most likely became infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 during a recent trip to California and sought medical care shortly after returning to Connecticut.” The only other two Connecticut cases as of press time are two health care workers who both live in New York but work at hospitals in Connecticut. One is a woman who works at both Danbury and Norwalk hospitals (my sister-in-law is a physical therapist at Norwalk Hospital, but has been away the past week and I’m anxious to hear her response to this when she returns), and the other is a community physician who does rounds at Bridgeport Hospital.
Look to We-Ha.com for the latest accurate and non-sensationalized news on how the coronavirus is specifically affecting West Hartford, and please sign up for the town’s and state’s emergency alert systems in case they are needed to quickly disseminate information about closings, etc.
If you have tips about businesses opening or closing, 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:
- When Scott Rownin posted on the Neighbors & Friends Facebook page last week that he planned to open School of Rock in West Hartford, there was an overwhelmingly positive response, and that reinforced his belief that he’s making the right move. Rownin, who currently lives in Westport, has purchased a School of Rock franchise for West Hartford – a place the company has been wanting to expand to for a long time, he said – and he hopes to have the business open and move here with his family this summer. For those unfamiliar with School of Rock, it’s not only a 2003 movie starring Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White, and Sarah Silverman, but also a well-established franchise with about 260 locations in 10 countries that started in 2002 with the Paul Green School of Music in Philadelphia. There are currently five locations in Connecticut, but none in Central Connecticut (Fairfield, Madison, New Canaan, Ridgefield, and Riverside). “The concept is performance-based music education for ages 7 through 18, plus adults,” Rownin said, with one-on-one instruction as well as the experience playing with a band. Each session ends with a theme-based show, for example “British Invasion,” and although it’s got “rock” in the name, he said many different genres of music are studied. “School of Rock is the world’s largest and most trusted multi-location music school with tens of thousands of musicians going through our classes, workshops, camps and performance programs every day. Our leadership team members combine business savvy, a passion for music and a drive to help children succeed,” the School of Rock website states. Rownin fits the mode in all of those ways: He’s an entrepreneur with an educational background in business, finance, engineering, and economics; inventor of the “SafeRide” mobile app to halt texting while driving; the child of teachers; and he has been a drummer for 35 years. When he was asked to accompany his daughter’s fourth grade band for a performance of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” it led to his teaching elementary school kids as well. “That was the spark,” he said. Right around the same time, he said, he ran into an adult in Westport who was a student at a local School of Rock, and “it just dawned on me that this would be a great business,” he said. When he got in touch with School of Rock, he learned that the company has been looking for someone to come into West Hartford for a long time. “It’s artistic, it’s culturally diverse, and we are all brimming with anticipation. This augments the school music program really well,” he said, building on the more classic music education to focus on teaching kids how to play with a small band. In addition, Rownin added that School of Rock, which will have an area where students can hang out and socialize, can be a great outlet for many kids who are looking to find their niche. “You see so many kids blossom,” he said. Rownin said he’s considering a few spaces (he only needs about 2,600 square feet), and is “pretty settled on Bishops Corner,” although he doesn’t have the lease signed yet. Each School of Rock location has its own house band,” and while West Hartford won’t have one by this June, Rownin said he has already signed on to participate in Celebrate West Hartford with musicians from other area schools.
- A West Hartford Center retail business is under new ownership – a local family that is so excited to have this opportunity. Hope & Stetson, which opened at 982 Farmington Ave. in June 2015, is now owned by Emma and Mike Muchin, and on Saturday they held an open house “Meet the Muchins” event at the store. The Muchins had moved to West Hartford from California about 10 years ago, and all three of their kids graduated from Conard. “We had been looking to buy a local business,” Emma told me. They were already familiar with Hope & Stetson, not only from shopping their but because their daughter, Lia, makes scarves and the store had already been selling them and Lia had been working there a few days a week. Emma, who works as a librarian at Loomis Chaffee in Windsor, said she and Mike were searching a business buy-sell site last fall, and a picture – without the name of the store – popped up. She immediately knew it was Hope & Stetson, and said, “This was meant to be.” Then when the previous owner, Tamara Laurie, learned it was Lia’s parents interested in buying her store, that sealed the deal and the transfer happened pretty quickly. “I’ve always loved shopping here, love the vibe,” Emma said. The Muchins arem’t planning to make any changes to the women’s boutique or its “happy place” tagline, and longtime manager Brianna Tetreault and other Lia and the other part-time employees will continue working there. According to Brianna, the store’s best sellers are the Eden shawls, vegan leather bags (I bought a great cross-body while doing this interview), and jewelry. There are many “easy, grab and go gifts at a good price point,” Mike added. The Muchins plan to increase the business’ involvement in the community, and plan a dog adoption event with Protectors of Animals on March 28, an Autism Speaks fundraiser on April 8, and along with a local photographer and West Hartford hair salon Sugar, and a “mommy and me” fundraiser for cystic fibrosis. Also in the works is a a event to benefit Special Olympics, in which Lia has been very actively involved, and a tasting for Father’s Day. West Hartford is now the only Hope & Stetson store after the Mystic location closed in August. Lots of photos of the family and the store can be found below!
- The official ribbon cutting for the J.Rene Coffee Roasters shop at 58 LaSalle Rd. in West Hartford Center was held on Thursday, with Mayor Shari Cantor, West Hartford Chamber of Commerce members, and the West Hartford Center Business Association participating. J.Rene has its own entrance, but is also accessible from inside Cookshop Plus (which is technically located at 60 LaSalle Rd.) The specialty coffee bar features espresso beverages, artisan coffee, and pastries. “The partnership allows the two small businesses to share a space on LaSalle Road while providing customers with exceptional coffee beverages and complementary products such as pour-over brewers, espresso machines, and cupware,” stated a news release from J.Rene. “We are thrilled to continue sharing our love for specialty coffee with the West Hartford community in this new location,” Jose Rene Martinez, owner and roaster at J.Rene Coffee Roasters and a finalist in the 2019 United States Roasting Championship said. “As with our Park Road cafe, this new shop in collaboration with Cookshop Plus will serve as a gathering place for West Hartford residents, whether they’re dropping in for their morning coffee before commuting to work or meeting up with old friends over a latte.”
- We’ve got more progress on the Arethusa Farm shop/cafe (975 Farmington Ave.) in West Hartford Center! The windows are in, the sign is in the window, and social media is buzzing! A post on Facebook and Instgram Friday afternoon stated: “We are so thrilled to be joining this community. Arethusa West Hartford coming Spring 2020.” The Facebook post had well over 500 “likes” and more than 70 excited comments, while the Instagram post had more than 1600 likes and 166 comments! The shop will offer Arethusa Farms’ premium dairy products (cheese, milk, ice cream) and will also include a coffee shop and pastries.
- A caterer that had agreed to donate most of the food for the second annual parent fundraiser at Knight Hall School last weekend bailed the day before the event, and Assistant Director/teacher Liz Lopes was frantic. She reached out to several local businesses via phone and put out a plea for help on Facebook – and was overwhelmed with the positive responses that led to more than enough food being donated for the event. “We are humbled and incredibly grateful for the outpouring and support from fellow small businesses in West Hartford. With the donations of food, the event was tremendously successful and allowed us to meet our fundraising goal!” Lopes said in an email. She extended her sincere thanks for the generosity of the following local businesses that donated: Cheesecake Factory, Doro Restaurant Group, Olive Garden, World of Beer, Luna Pizza, Delicacy Market, Sally and Bob’s Eatery, Blue Elephant Trail, Joey’s Pizza Pie, and Bert’s Pizzeria (formerly known as Juliana’s).
- West Hartford has recently welcomed a Thriveworks Counseling office at 846 Farmington Ave. Thriveworks West Hartford is one of more than 100 Thriveworks locations across the U.S. “At Thriveworks our clinicians help others with a wide variety of issues. These include anxiety, depression, family problems, relationship issues, trauma, and grief and loss,” said Executive Clinic Director Ryan Culkin in an email. Principal clinicians include Leah Bemiller, LCSW and Mimi Akhand, LMFT. Thriveworks Counseling offers extended hours and weekend appointments, and can be reached at 860-553-3374. You can also schedule an appointment online through their website.
- The Bridge Family Center is expanding its counseling operations, and opening an additional location at 100 Shield St. in Elmwood, Economic Development Specialist Kristen Gorski reported at the Elmwood Business Association meeting last week.
- The West Hartford Town Council will be considering a resolution to expand an ordinance passed in 2017 to allow “Experiential Recreation and Restaurant Facilities” in the General Business (GB) zone. As adopted, the use is permittee in the Central Business District High Intensity (CBDH) and General Industrial (IG) zones, but the limitation has prohibited certain businesses from pursuing opportunities in town. Pockets of General Business Zones exist throughout town, including in Bishops Corner and on Park Road. In his summary of the proposed change, Town Manager Matt Hart offered the following description: “This ordinance was an initiative to modernize our zoning ordinances to permit a rapidly growing segment of the retail market: ‘experiential recreation and restaurants.’ In general terms, this type of use combines an experiential use such as ‘arcade games, bowling, billiards, etc.’ with the sale of food and/or alcoholic beverages, similar to the Dave & Buster’s store concept. The town’s zoning ordinances had not previously provided flexibility to allow for more than one main use to be located within a single establishment when paired with a restaurant use and/or the intent to sell alcoholic beverages.” The ordinance change will be discussed at a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10, followed by the Town Council meeting at 7:30 p.m. where a vote is scheduled.
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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