A Restored Pratt Street
Through improved and restored retail storefronts, renovated residential spaces, and curated programming, Pratt St is being rediscovered.
Eight months ago, there were 10 vacant storefronts on Hartford’s Pratt Street, a block-long shopping corridor paved with brick and lined with historic buildings.
Today there are only two vacancies, as new and growing entrepreneurs have flocked to Pratt Street and surrounding areas. This blossoming is prompted in great part by the city’s new “Hart Lift” grant program, which matches up to $150,000 in remodeling costs for first-floor businesses.
A desolation had settled into the area due to a die-off of retail and restaurants amid the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, however, a building energy was palpable as owners of new and expanding retail and restaurant ventures lined the street and stood inside storefronts.
The Metro Hartford Alliance and Hartford Chamber of Commerce held a meet-and-greet Tuesday for new Pratt Street business owners benefitting from the Hart Lift Program.
Monica Beaudoin, a co-owner of the Bloom Bake Shop at 80 Pratt St., said meeting others building shops on the pedestrian-only street made her excited about the potential for collaborative efforts. She hopes to open before fall.
“There is a lot of energy on the street – all the new businesses moving in but also lots of events,” Beaudoin said. “There’s DJs, pop-ups, craft fairs, parties… there’s just a lot of events.”
Beaudoin also had a chance to chat with Gov. Ned Lamont, who visited several fledgling retailers Tuesday.
“Pratt Street is going to be a destination, don’t you think?” Lamont told Beaudoin. “I believe it.”
In December, Hartford announced it had allocated $6 million of its federal pandemic relief funds to reviving street-level retail and commercial activity through the new Hart Lift grant program. Landlords could apply for matching grants to outfit spaces for new or growing businesses.
The city has awarded $3.5 million to landlords to go towards outfitting space for 35 tenants. The lion’s share — $2.1 million – has been targeted downtown. Of that, $648,567 has been committed to shops in and around Pratt Street.
Yaritza Garrido, co-owner of Refuge33 Tattoo, hopes to shortly begin work transforming a former hookah lounge at 95 Pratt St. into an inclusive tattoo shop with upscale coffee. She was drawn to Pratt Street because its existing sense of community and inclusivity. Much of her clientele comes from the LBGTQ community.
“We are really trying to turn the stigma around as far as tattoos and really set a foundation here to be part of a community,” Garrido said. “That’s why we decided to go on Front Street, to be part of a community.”
Several of the new and growing vendors on Pratt Street say their efforts to open or enlarge shops have been delayed and have become vastly more expensive due to supply chain problems.
“It’s the coolers and we have had a hard time finding a builder,” said Lelaneia Dubay, who aims to remodel a shuttered restaurant at 54 Pratt St. into a cocktail bar restaurant. “It’s everything. It’s not just one thing.”
Dubay’s Hartford Flavor Cocktail Parlour will emulate the aesthetic of an early 20th Century cocktail bar. Dubay and her husband already run a successful distillery at 30 Arbor St. Their Wild Moon Liqueurs are shipped to nine states. Hart Lift convinced them to pull the trigger on their ambition of opening a restaurant that compliments their brand.
Unfortunately, labor shortages have complicated the search for contractors. Supply chain problems have slowed their hunt for equipment.
Rishi Sachdeva, owner of Capital Spirits, said he is having a hard time securing doors for coolers in his new shop at 68 Pratt St. The space is nearly three times as large as the storefront at 73 Pratt St. from which he runs his 7-year-old business.
Sachdeva declined to specify his budget but said rising materials costs have pushed it well past expectations.
“Obviously it’s still a risk,” Sachdeva said of the move. “We are tripling our footprint and we don’t know if we will gain more foot traffic at all. But we have confidence that everything that is being invested in Hartford will pull through. And we will be able to feed off that energy.”
Given problems with materials, Sachdeva said he can’t be certain when he will move to the larger space. He hopes it will be before fall.
While the continuing impact of the pandemic have created headwinds, there is a building buzz on the street.
“Pratt Street is now a destination site,” said Gerry Grate, who has owned a cigar shop on Pratt Street for a decade. “People I have never seen on the street are here walking. Now I see the new businesses on the street. I see younger people on the street. I see older people with families on the street.”
Grate’s landlord has been able to tap into Hart Lift funding to help defray costs of enlarging and remodeling “The Tobacco Shop.” Grate said he is pitching in $60,000 of his own.
Michael Seidenfeld, chief operating officer of downtown landlord Shelbourne Global, visited shop after shop Tuesday, offering tenants encouragement, advice and support. He expects the first phase of a $100 million apartment redevelopment and expansion along one side of Pratt Street to be completed in September. That will bring 89 apartments to the street.
Among those Seidenfield visited were Dan and Jess Lyons, who plan to remodel a closed Asian food restaurant into a bar and restaurant focused on live entertainment. They have also run into supply chain problems, pushing their planned opening to late fall. But it hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm.
Dan Lyons said the ongoing drive that is adding thousands of apartments to Hartford will power a retail and restaurant scene similar to one that evolved in Boston’s east end. Another mark in Hartford’s favor is its affordability, Lyons said.
“We believe we are getting in on the ground floor of Hartford’s rebirth in a way,” Lyons said. “We feel us getting in now and taking that leap will pay dividends in the future. If we tried to open another place in Boston, it would take us 10 years to see a return on anything.”
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