‘Old Fashioned’ Soda Shop Opens in Downtown Hartford, Highlighting Success of Hart Lift Program
Emily DiSalvo
Dec 5, 2023

HARTFORD — Alternating black and white tiles, a souvenir from soda shops of the past, is pretty much the only piece of decor that isn’t pink inside Emrey’s Specialty Sweets and Soda Shop in Hartford.

The shop, visible blocks away on Trumbull Street because of its bright pink exterior, opened its doors for the first time Dec. 2. On Monday, Mayor Luke Bronin visited the shop to celebrate the success of the city’s Hart Lift program, of which Emrey’s is a product.

“This is just the latest example of the energy that is building in our downtown and our neighborhood corridors,” Bronin said. “That is in part because of the Hart Lift partnership.”

The city launched the the Hart Lift program in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic using American Rescue Plan Act funds. The program allows public-private partnerships to incentivize development in previously vacant storefronts by providing federal funding to business owners that must be matched by the owners.

On Monday, Bronin announced Hart Lift had won the International Economic Development Council (IEDC)’s Excellence Award after leveraging $7 million federal dollars to help open nearly 60 businesses, according to the mayor’s office. These include Pratt Street’s Urban Lodge and Parkville Sounds on Park Street. The award recognizes mid-sized cities that effectively use federal money for economic development goals.

“We wanted to make sure that we were making it a little bit easier for those entrepreneurs who were opening on our neighborhood corridors to get over that hurdle and make that investment,” Bronin said.

The program is based on the square-footage size of the vacant storefront the business owner wants to buy. The city provided $50 per square foot up to a maximum of 5,000 square feet or $150,000. Downtown, the city contributions must be matched 100 percent by the owners, but in the smaller neighborhoods, owners have to match 50 percent of the city contributions.

Melissa Melonson, the owner of Emrey’s, said the Hart Lift program allowed her to carry out a long-time dream of her 11-year-old daughter, who she called her “co-owner.”

“Without this Hart Lift program, which they dreamt up, which they executed on, I never would have been able to take this step into opening Emrey’s Specialty Sweets and Sodas,” Melonson said Monday.

The space at 196 Trumbull St. used to be a FedEx Kinkos before vacating. Melonson said when she started in on it, it was just concrete.

“There was nothing here,” Melonson said. “It was an overwhelming project.”

Now the space has a long countertop with barstools. There is a soda fountain and shelves behind the bar lined with ridged glasses for milkshakes and specialty sodas. In front of the large windows are a variety of candies such as lollipops, caramels and licorice.

“We’re taking the idea of the traditional soda shop and really kind of opening it with with a twist for the modern,” Melonson said.

At the soft opening on Saturday, Melonson said she saw a decent crowd of customers in their 20s, but she said the shop has something for everyone, including coffees for the business community during the day.

Melonson, who Bronin called “one of the loudest, most effective advocates for Hartford,” is the founder of the marketing agency, Lumi, which has done branding work for Shelbourne, one of the main developers of Pratt Street, just around the corner from Emrey’s.

“I love this community,” Melonson said. “I love all of the other business owners here. I love my neighbors. I love the residents here, and I am thrilled to be able to become part of Hartford’s downtown community story for hopefully a very long time.”

Emrey’s is open Wednesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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