Monroe restarts its economic engine, as things begin to hum

Aubuchon Hardware is open at 590 Main St. Contributed

MONROE, CT — Aubuchon Hardware store recently opened its doors at Bart Center on Main Street and hopes to host a two-day-celebration with a grand opening from July 31 to Aug. 1. It is among the encouraging signs of life, as Monroe restarts its economy amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some businesses, hurt by the pandemic, will not reopen. But others are steadily getting back on their feet. A number of restaurants are thriving with outdoor dining and First Selectman Ken Kellogg says there are close to a dozen new businesses, whose ribbon cutting ceremonies had been postponed.

Among the businesses that may not come back is Gaetano’s, a popular Italian deli on Elm Street, according to Kellogg.

“Yes, I do anticipate there’s going to be some that are not going to meet the financial pressures of Covid — some may not reopen again,” he told the Economic Development Commission at its meeting Thursday. “A lot of that is from losing employees and not being able to make lease payments. Those, so far, have not been that numerous, so we are kind of cautiously optimistic.”

William Holsworth, who was recently appointed to the temporary community and economic recovery coordinator position, has been helping restaurants and salons to understand the state’s reopening guidelines.

“Restaurants have had so much success with outdoor dining, that we are now looking at ways to make it more of a permanent process,” Holsworth told the commission.

This is to help restaurants recover from the virus, while providing a service to the town, according to Holsworth. “So many residents are enjoying the outdoor dining experience right now, that we want to be able to keep that going,” he said.

He also credited the town’s zoning department with “out of the box thinking” to allow businesses, who meet requirements and have enough space, to expand their parking lots.

Town officials are also looking out for the public’s health.

Holsworth said the town has received complaints that “a couple” of restaurants were violating state reopening rules, with cooks and other employees not wearing masks or gloves, or not social distancing.

“I’ve gone out and revisited with all of the restaurants that we’ve gotten complaints on,” he said. “I’ve helped educate them on the rules for all the sectors — on the need for masks. I’ve helped them kind of understand this needs to be taken seriously and we’re here to help in any way we can.”

Holsworth said they appreciated the town’s outreach.

“They understand that the town is behind them and all we want is to see these businesses be successful,” he said, “so they’re very happy about that. But they also understand the need for the regulations and the like.”

Finding solutions

Town officials have helped businesses find solutions to a variety of problems.

One merchant at Village Square asked Holsworth why there was not more signage to draw attention to businesses in the shopping center, so he approached Planning and Zoning commissioners, who told him A-frame exterior signs were allowed.

When Veracious Brewing Company had trouble booking food trucks for customers to enjoy food with their beer on weekends, especially for July 4, the town stepped in.

Holsworth said the town obtained Milford’s list of food truck venders, so Veracious could call around and find someone for the holiday weekend.

“We did an inspection the next morning and got the vender registered the day before the 4th of July weekend,” he said. “Veracious was grateful we were able to help them do it. Now they’re getting a hot dog machine inside, so they don’t always have to go through the food trucks.”

Holsworth said MG Nails in Clock Tower Square had been closed for three months, was in debt and had to sell. The owner asked Kellogg for help.

Holsworth and Kellogg communicated with the owner through email, overcoming a language barrier, while assisting with the completion of a transaction with a new nail salon, Enjoy Nails.

“We expedited the process through Town Hall and the Health Department did its inspection,” Holsworth said, adding the closing was scheduled for either Friday or Saturday.

Holsworth has also been assisting businesses with PPE and Small Business Administration loan applications. And Ray Giovanni, chairman of the EDC and president of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, helped businesses who received loans to understand what exemptions they qualified for.

Developments coming

Kellogg said some commercial developments are underway.

Giovanni said he believes the Twomblys received state approval for a septic system, allowing the couple to build an age 55 and older community with eight buildings and a total of 25 two-bedroom-units on a 10-acre-site at 269 Purdy Hill Road.

Kellogg said the Town Line Plaza project at 205 Monroe Turnpike, which will include a Panera Bread, recently broke ground. Permits for a traffic light there were recently obtained from the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Aside from a Panera Bread, the mixed-use retail development will also include a Noble gas station and convenience store and medical office space.

“That was good news,” he said. “They were very eager to get started.”

The first selectman said other developments are coming, including an application for the Stevenson Lumber property.

“I think it’s a reuse of what’s there,” Kellogg said. “I don’t have all the details now, but something is in the works.”

Aubuchon Hardware

Aubuchon Hardware opened at 590 Main St., filling space that became vacant when Stepney Hardware closed last year, after a 64-year-run.

Kellogg credits Town Planner Rick Schultz and Fire Marshal William Davin with working closely with Aubuchon Hardware to get its Monroe location up and running. Giovanni said the hardware store chain has 105 locations.

In a post on the Monroe, CT Residents Facebook page, Michael Kensel, store manager of the new Aubuchon Hardware in Monroe, introduced himself.

“Looking forward to meeting all of you and serving all your Hardware needs,” Kensel said.

Giovanni said the opening of Aubuchon Hardware is good news, but expressed concern over the grand opening celebration the company is planning for July 31 to Aug. 1, because the town does not know what the state guidelines for gatherings will be.

Giovanni suggested he and Holsworth call the vice president of marketing for Aubuchon Hardware to work out the details.

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