Comments Off on West Hartford Business Buzz: February 15, 2021

A round-up of openings, closings, and other news about West Hartford businesses.

Happy Monday, and for those who are enjoying a long President’s Day weekend, I hope you are having some good downtime!

We are more than halfway through February. Mother Nature hasn’t quite acknowledged it yet, and is threatening to throw some evilness our way this coming week, but two weeks from today is the start of meteorological spring. I’m looking forward to spring this year more than every, hoping that it will accelerate the end of the pandemic and allow for the return of more outdoor activities.

I hope everyone had a nice Valentine’s Day! My husband and I decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a “date night” dinner out later this week, instead of celebrating on Sunday which tends to be one of my busiest work days.

At the last minute we decided to go out to dinner Saturday night as well, and had a great meal at Frida on New Britain Avenue. We had an outdoor dinner there over the summer, when they created a patio area in a portion of the parking lot, but hadn’t eaten inside since pre-pandemic.

The food and margaritas were fabulous (see photos below!) and they’ve done a great job with plexiglass barriers separating all of the tables and in between the booths. I’m still thinking about my fish tacos!

We hope you’ve been following our Keeping it in the Community feature, which is a collaboration with the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce and the town’s Economic Development Department.

Read last week’s “Keeping it in the Community” spotlight on French Cleaners.

Keeping it in the Community Tip: Businesses serve many missions

Businesses come in all manner of sizes and industries. Sectors such as manufacturing, medical, retail, restaurants, and professional services come immediately to mind when we think about businesses. For the most part, businesses are designed to provide products and services, create jobs, and generate income for owners or shareholders.

Within the sphere of business there are other models, most notably nonprofit and not-for-profit organizations. Similar to for-profit businesses, these come in a variety of sizes and causes. Organizations such as these are ubiquitous in our lives and in our community. Some are large national and international organizations bringing awareness and providing assistance to major illnesses and social issues. There are also regional and local operations addressing things like hunger, literacy, and issues of disparity. There are even homegrown nonprofits and not-for-profit organizations founded by a person or group who have witnessed or experienced something in their own lives. They are born out of desire to make a difference or influence change.

West Hartford is home to countless organizations such as the ones described here. Like our local businesses, they are also reliant on community support to ensure they can continue to do their important and valuable work.

Keeping it in the Community Spotlight: Futures Inc.

Futures Inc., which has been in business for 30 years, has had a location in West Hartford for 16 years, but recently has become much more physically visible in the community.

While the Futures Inc. school, located at 1030 New Britain Ave., opened in 2004, the corporate office relocated to West Hartford in 2017 after purchasing a historic building at 902 South Quaker Lane.

They also own and operate two social enterprises in West Hartford, said CEO and President Pamela DonAroma.

“In the late 1980s, Futures teamed up with the University of Connecticut’s Center for Excellence and began to transform traditional services for individuals with disabilities and their families,” said DonAroma. “The philosophy was simple – to empower each individual to live life to its fullest and know the satisfaction of personal achievement. With that philosophy in mind, Futures became the first agency of its kind in Connecticut to develop and implement customized service plans for individuals with disabilities and their families.”

In West Hartford, The Kitchen at Futures Inc. operates a teaching kitchen that shares space with the offices on South Quaker Lane, and in August 2020, they opened the organization’s third brick and mortar retail location, Good Cause Gifts, which shares space with Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union at 973 Farmington Ave.

Good Cause Gifts also has stores in Berlin and at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain – and the Kitchen at Futures Inc. also runs the cafe at the hospital.

The Kitchen at Futures Inc. has a commercial kitchen in Middletown, an adult services office in Norwich.

They work with clients throughout the state, and are continuing to expand operations.

“We just purchased a beautiful building in Hartford and are beginning to transform the space with the hopes of having it up and running in 2022,” DonAroma said.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges to all aspects of Futures Inc. operations. “Continuing to provide one-on-one services to our students and consumers was crucial for not only those individuals but to their families. Each of our divisions had to shift gears and quickly come up with meaningful and productive solutions so we could continue our work,” said DonAroma.

The opening of the Good Cause Gifts location was in the works pre-pandemic, and forged ahead with the renovation of the space and opening despite the challenges.

“One of our biggest goals to opening a store in West Hartford Center was to get our name into the community and share what Futures Inc. and Good Cause Gifts is doing – while also providing another great shopping option for our town,” said DonAroma. “We were putting a lot of weight on foot traffic and presence in the center to get our name out there. With COVID, foot traffic in the center was/is minimal and during the holidays most customers shopped online. Additionally, the grand opening celebration has been delayed.As a result of the lack of business, we were forced to temporarily close one of our store locations and reduce hours in all locations because sales decreased,” she said.

“The biggest impact of this is that a reduction in our hours translates to a loss of work hours and opportunities for all our employees, with or without disabilities.As a nonprofit social enterprise, every purchase made at our stores goes directly back into supporting our mission, so for every hour we are closed it is a potential sale lost and really hits us hard.”

The stores now offer personal appointments in addition to in-person shopping, as well as curbside pickup, local delivery, and an online store. They are committed to doing anything they can to keep staff and customers comfortable and safe.

The team at Futures Inc. also had to shift its other programs to to a virtual platform, to be able to safely provide the one-to-one service to students and consumers.

“When we were able to come back together in person, we still needed to maintain a high level of safety, so we re-shifted our learning and provided outdoor classes and experiences. Every day we shifted and adjusted to the new challenges – and have been highly successful at doing that,” DonAroma said.

All locations have been equipped with medical grade air purifiers, UVC lighting, PPE, social distancing signage, and hand-sanitizing stations at all entrances. Employee temperatures are recorded daily, buildings are cleaned throughout the day, and vehicles are cleaned using portable foggers.

Because of the nature of their work, Futures Inc. employees qualified in Phase 1A for COVID-19 vaccination. They worked in partnership with the health department and physicians to respond to employees’ concerns at Q&A sessions, and provided FAQs to address any hesitancy about the vaccination process.

Futures Inc. has had to rely more on digital platforms for day-to-day business operations as well as to market their message to the communities. They’ve increased their use of social media, and participation in chamber of commerce meetings.

“In addition to shifting to a stronger online presence, simultaneous to opening our West Hartford Good Cause Gifts location, we also built an online store (goodcausegifts.org). The opening of the online store has allowed us to continue sales. Opening the online store has allowed us to continue employing our staff while also bringing great products to the community. We offer local delivery, shipping, curbside pickup and personal shopping appointments. We have even had customers FaceTime with us to virtually shop our store,” DonAroma said.

“I oversee the day to day and development of Futures Inc. I have an incredible team working hard to make all that we do possible. There are many moving parts to the operations at Futures, and I am thankful to have an inspiring, creative, and hardworking team that is dedicated to putting their best forward to further our mission and improve the lives of countless individuals in our community,” DonAroma said.

While the past year has presented daunting challenges, there have been successes as well.

Futures Inc. was able to maintain 100% employment of staff, and kept individuals employed in the retail stores and kitchens as well. “Keeping our team employed, safe, and healthy has been a top priority,” DonAroma said.

One of the key goals for opening the West Hartford Center store and launching the online store was working with more local vendors and businesses, and Futures Inc. has succeeded on that front as well.

“Specifically, we have brought in products from Hartford Prints, 10-Ton Goldfish, We-Ha Candle Company – worked with Direct Line Media and Cricket Press. Jaime La Jones reworked our branding and created a beautiful mural on the side of our Good Cause Gifts store in Berlin. We are also thankful to share a space with Nutmeg State Financial Bank, during the height of the pandemic, they continued to work with us and transform the West Hartford location to create a shared space. COVID has pushed us to look around and connect with more individuals in the community – everyone can relate to what is going on so having resources on a local level has not only made the last year more enjoyable but more meaningful,” said DonAroma.

Please continue to support our local businesses, and please wear your masks if you are in public places, and stay safe and healthy.

If you have information about businesses changing their operations due to COVID-19, or doing something worth sharing, please provide that information in the comments or email Ronni Newton at [email protected].

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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