Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s arrived in Sandy Hook Wednesday morning for a walking tour of the business district in the village center. First Selectman Pat Llodra was waiting to guide him along the new sidewalks there and the two barely had time to greet each other before they were surrounded by news crews, cameras, and microphones. The questions began.
Is there a stigma in Sandy Hook? Mrs Llodra said, “I don’t think of it as a stigma, it does not define us … we have to integrate December 14 into who we are; my belief is that one does that better with quiet time to think.”
She said that Sandy Hook School has triggered conversation about what school security should look like, and the community may be “looking for reassurances it did not ask for in the past.”
Before long, however, the governor moved on to the business at hand — Sandy Hook business. He soon found himself shaking hands with many shop owners. He asked specifically about economic recovery since 12/14.
Earlier this year, Gov Malloy announced the award of a $500,000 Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant to aid businesses suffering unforeseen losses since December.
The governor addressed economic funding, and other inquiries stemming from 12/14: “Money was put into a local project and this is an opportunity to see that,” he said to a small crowd including Mrs Llodra. Noting the flood of visitors to Sandy Hook Center in the wake of 12/14, he said, “The town was taken over … businesses suffered.”
That steady flow of people visited and added to quickly growing impromptu memorial sites of teddy bears, candles, angels, and more, while the news media from around the world also took up temporary residence. A weeks-long traffic jam clogged Sandy Hook Center, causing many businesses to lose their regular customers for more than a month.
“We needed the state,” Mrs Llodra told Gov Malloy. She noted that Sandy Hook has a historic place in the community. The site has been developing and the improvements are incremental, she said, “but the results are extraordinary.” Gov Malloy also saw this week the improvements from the current phase of a streetscape project, for which the town had previously funded $1 million for improvements, supplemented by $100,000 in state money.
The shop owners, with doors opening on brand-new sidewalks, landscaping, lighting, and curbing of the recent streetscape project, greeted the governor, first selectmen, several town officials including Director of Economic and Community Development Elizabeth Stocker, Sandy Hook Organization for Prosperity (SHOP) President Mike Burton and Vice President Joe Hemingway, Deputy Director of Land Use Rob Sibley, contractors including Rob Manna of LRM Construction, who completed months of work on the streetscape, Fire Chief Bill Halstead, Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia, and Board of Education member Kathy (Fetchick) Hamilton. The new media troupe followed along.
The group first arrived at The Wishing Well, then moved next door to Fun Kuts where Marci Benitez held open the door for Gov Malloy. Along the way, he had glanced at the bright red, stamped concrete sidewalk and antique-style lampposts. Mr Hemingway later explained the streetscape upgrades. The area can now become more of a “walking district,” where a customer can park and find all restaurants or shops accessible by walking.
Leaving Fun Kuts and pausing on the curb as Officer Jeffrey Silver slowed traffic for the touring group, Gov Malloy said, “Sandy Hook is a lovely place.” He paused to shake hands with Andy LaFreniere, Helen Malyszka, and Trish Keil from the Suzuki Music School.
“It’s great that he came, and I am glad to shake his hand,” Ms Malyszka said.
They visited Porco’s Karate Academy, The Toy Tree, and PJs Laundromat where owner Sharon Doherty spoke briefly with him.
He noted that her business had been “pretty beat up,” in the weeks after December.
“Things did not get back to normalcy until May,” she said. “People change their routines and go elsewhere.” Things were getting better, she said.
“That’s our intention, to help,” he said.
Having watched out a window as the governor’s group passed by, hairdresser Nancy Richards would have liked to meet him. Business has been good for her lately, she said.
With a quick stop at Sandy Hook Deli and a bite to eat there, the group soon strode on to Sandy Hook Hair Company, then crossed the center and moved up Riverside Road to The Villa. Owner Vito Kala was waiting.
“I am sorry for all your trouble,” Gov Malloy told him. Mr Kala proudly stated: “I have been here 30 years.”
They crossed the center again and traveled to The Country Mill on Glen Road, owned by Linda Manna. Crossing the lot, the governor next met with Mike Porco, Sr, as they entered the Village Perk Cafe where Gov Malloy purchased an iced tea.
Carrying his drink next-door, he spoke with The Foundry Kitchen and Tavern owner Chris Bruno.
Soon outside again and walking toward The Glen property where Sandy Hook’s Christmas Tree is located — a new tree has been planted across the street in anticipation of The Glen tree coming down in a future season — Gov Malloy looked again at the streetscape work. “It’s gorgeous,” he said. He was also now equipped with a sense from shop owners of how the STEAP grant was working.
“I am happy to stop at the businesses helped by the grant,” he said. Remarking on Sandy Hook, he said, “People have positively pulled together to plan for the future.”
Finally, after leaving Sabrina Style near The Glen and standing in the spot where Sandy Hook’s memorial had grown after 12/14, Gov Malloy met Newtown Forest Association President Bob Eckenrode and member Ed Kelleher. The association owns The Glen. The group lingered a few moments at the scenic spot by the Pootatuck River before the governor’s car arrived to take him to his next appointment.