It was a beautiful autumn day for the Hartford Marathon. Crystal-clear blue skies and a warm sun helped welcome thousands of runners and even more spectators from all over the world to our Capital City. However, I couldn’t help but notice the chilly reception these visitors got from some downtown merchants.
It’s interesting because business owners will often complain that there aren’t enough people on the streets downtown. They’re waiting for more housing to bring more residents. It’s been coming gradually, and more hotel rooms, apartments and condominiums continue to open, but what about the people already here?
The visitors complain, too. “Nothing is open on a Sunday.” It’s not entirely true, but you do have to look around to find a place to eat.
Many planners, from both the city and the suburbs do a fairly good job at bringing people to downtown Hartford. The marathon was a case in point, but there are also festivals, parades, concerts, games, etc. These events bring thousands of people perhaps looking for something to eat and drink.
Yet on marathon day, I was stunned that the only restaurant in Bushnell Park was closed during the marathon. The park was the epicenter of the race: The starting line and the finish line were there along with a throng of spectators. This restaurant was surrounded by people. Imagine the smell of food grilling or the sight of others dining and enjoying the October outdoors? I can’t understand why this restaurant was closed.
One of my favorite eateries, which happens to be the closest to the finish line, was also closed. As my family and I walked around downtown, we noticed there were others who chose to shut their doors, even as runners, their families and fans walked by, seemingly perplexed. These restaurants hurt the ones that were open, because after people walk from the race and see three restaurants closed, they might call it a day and drive to the mall.
I worked in several restaurants when I was younger, from everything to a busboy, to a bartender to a host. I remember having to work Saturday and Sunday afternoons at some of these places, even in the middle of the summer, when we only had a handful of customers. The restaurant was mostly empty. I asked why we had to be open and was told, “If we are open all the time, overall you will be very busy, because customers will know we will always be open for them.”
A few restaurants practice this and it has brought them success. John Vaughan who owns Vaughan’s Publick House on Pratt Street is a great example. They are always open, and while they might not be busy every moment, they are a destination downtown for diners. JoJo’s coffee is another example. The Starbucks around the corner keeps banker’s hours yet the mom-and-pop JoJo’s is open 7 days a week — this Saturday and Sunday it was packed. I’ll never forget seeing Starbucks closed one day as a parade passed by with spectators peering into the windows looking longingly for a barista past the stools stacked on the darkened counters.
You can’t feel badly for businesses that choose not to serve the customers.
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