Connecticut city open for business again after COVID struggles

After the pandemic shuttered many businesses in the city center, there is now a sense of hope and officials say it is also a time of opportunity.

HARTFORD, Connecticut – A stroll through downtown Hartford reveals the grim reality of a post-COVID world. Empty storefronts where businesses once stood.

“I’ve been in retail in this downtown with my husband for 44 years and I’ve never seen him look so bad,” said Jody Morneault, owner of Stackpole Moore Tryon clothing store in Morneault. “Every day that passes, there is another business that closes.”

His store is located at the corner of Pratt and Trumbull streets, in the heart of downtown. From there, she watched the pandemic turn the bustling area into a mere shell of what it was.

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“It’s very depressing because most of the people who have closed are my old friends,” Morneault said. “For the people who didn’t survive, for a long time I walked around crying.”

The Hartford Chamber of Commerce says many businesses have closed since the pandemic began. One of the factors is the transition to working from home. The tens of thousands of employees who used to come to the city have stopped coming, and businesses have felt that impact.

“When an industry decides not to come back and I can understand why, they have to protect their employees, but there is no safety net in place for small businesses,” Morneault said.

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But now there is a sense of hope. COVID cases continue to drop, warrants are dropped, and many of these big companies are on track to bring their employees back to the office.

This is why the city approaches the current situation from a positive point of view. These empty buildings are a chance for new businesses and new growth.

“This is our capital, it’s a great place, and we have a rare opportunity to emerge from COVID in a position of strength to make Hartford the urban core of the region,” said Julio Concepcion, executive director of the Hartford House of Trade.

This is where the HartLift program kicks in. Offering homeowners a grant of up to $150,000, giving them the funds to entice small businesses to fill their voids.

“We want to create that extra incentive to make sure they do it soon, they do it in Hartford, and they do it in a way that brings vacant spaces back to life,” Mayor Luke Bronin said.

There has already been interest. The first 10 scholarship recipients have been chosen. Including Corner Three, which will transform what is currently an empty space into a new sports bar that will open on Pratt Street, across from the XL Center.

This is exactly what officials hope to see.

“We want to see businesses open in these buildings as quickly as possible and what’s great is that businesses are lining up to do that,” Bronin said.

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However, it’s only one piece of the puzzle to make Hartford whole again.

“We need to do more. It’s not enough to give money, there needs to be a collective ecosystem of support for these businesses. Not just when they come in, but to thrive afterward. We want these businesses to not not just be here for a few years, we want them to be in Hartford for a long time,” Concepcion said.

It also means focusing on other strengths. Promoting arts and culture, sports teams and venues, and the residential growth Hartford has seen in recent years.

In Hartford, you’ll pay an average rent of $1,054 for a one-bedroom apartment according to Compared to other nearby cities like Boston, where it’s $1,826, and New York City, $1,778.

“Our population in the downtown neighborhood has grown incredibly, so it’s really up to them too to make sure they know this is their community, this is their neighborhood. Come hang out, spend money,” Concepcion said.

Activating the city in multiple ways to bring the heart of Connecticut back to life.

“I think it’s beautiful,” Morneault said. “I think it’s a gem,” she said.

Gaby Molina is a reporter and anchor at FOX61 News. She can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and instagram.

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