Rob Rowlson, West Hartford's director of community services, told a Chamber of Commerce gathering on Wednesday that small businesses are what make the town the success that it is.
"Last year was a tough year," Rowlson said. "This year is starting out a little bit better."
In a slide-show tour of the retail districts, Rowlson described quite a few new enterprises that are expected to open within the year.
- A branch of Farmington Bank at the new Shop & Shop plaza in Elmwood.
- A credit union that will take the place of .
- The Beachland Tavern, which will take over the space in Elmwood vacated by Elements Bistro.
- A wine store that is renovating the building on Park Road that once housed Bazillions.
- Wings Over West Hartford, also in Elmwood.
- Joey Garlic's Express, which is now gutting the building on Park Road that previously housed Barb's Pizza.
- Lululemon, an athletic apparel store expected to open in the old Bennett's building on Lasalle Road and Farmington Avenue. The tentative opening date is July 1.
- A men's shoestore that will fill the Farmington Avenue storefront that was formerly , which moved last year into bigger digs in the old Bookworm space.
- Silkworm, a women's clothing store from Essex that will take the space vacated by Ritz Camera on Farmington Avenue.
- Sugarbelle Cupcakes, which will go into the space on South Main Street that was formerly Pocket Wireless.
- A bank that will likely take the Lasalle Road post office space.
- A restaurant that is likely in the old Barnes & Noble space in the Marshall's plaza at Bishops Corner.
- Four stores in Westfarms mall, including Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Free People and True Religion.
In addition to the new businesses expected, Rowlson also outlined the development that has taken place in the last year, including the new Stop & Shop plaza in Elmwood.
"Less than 10 years ago, 50 percent of commercial space in Elmwood was vacant," Rowlson said. "Today, there's only one vacancy in Elmwood," which is the old Dragon's Lair in the plaza on New Britain Avenue.
Rowlson said he expected to hear next week whether Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will move forward with the New Britain-Hartford busway project that is slated to go through Elmwood. While town officials are less than enthusiastic about it, Rowlson said, he thought it was likely to proceed because the project would create jobs.
In West Hartford Center, Rowlson said, quite a few new restaurants and stores have opened in the last year, including Treva, Bella Gusta and Chipotle on Farmington Avenue, the Blue Elephant Trail and the Gyro Palace on South Main Street. , however, has closed due to the chain's bankruptcy.
"Here's a tragedy," Rowlson said. "Because this particular store was making money."
In Blue Back Square, several new businesses have opened, including the accessories store and the wine bar Uncorked.
Rowlson said town officials are recommending the extension of parking meter hours to raise revenue and to acknowledge that the business climate has changed in the center. The extension of hours would likely take the meters from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at night and add Sunday hours. The town council will take up the matter this spring.
Rowlson also talked about the $10-million-plus investment in the Marshall's plaza in Bishops Corner and said the public library branch there will also receive some energy updates that will improve the look of the building as well.
At the end of his presentation, Rowlson said he was also developing a long-range plan for the east side of town, which has several industrial tracts that have gone undeveloped for 30 years.
"Let's take that land and rezone it," he said. "I'm going to propose a high-density, mixed-use zoning district."
Rowlson, who predicted that the rezoning would be controversial, said it would allow the town to take advantage of the busway and a possible rail line by allowing residential and office buildings in a place that's now zoned for industrial use.
"Manufacturing's not coming back," he said.
In closing, Rowlson said West Hartford had survived the recession in much better shape than most towns and that it was poised for more growth.
"We've had a tough couple of years," he said. "But we've come out of it with our heads held high."