BERLIN – Board of Finance Chairman Sam Lomaglio visited local businesses earlier this month to find out how the town can attract more visitors, improve Farmington Avenue, and bolster the town economy.
Lomaglio visited seven businesses — Dynasty Jewelry, Dragonfly Home & Gift, The Avenue, Clutch Cards & Collectibles, Provision State Coffee, Coles Road Brewing, and Kensington Pizza.
During his conversations with representatives of each business on June 5, Lomaglio proposed a Business Relief Program — an economic development incentive that would encourage business owners to upgrade the exterior of buildings and storefronts.
The $500,000 program would be funded out of the $6 million the town received as part of the federal American Rescue Plan.
“It’s all about the look,” said Lomaglio. “I’ve talked to a number of people who’ve lived in this town and said that Farmington Avenue hasn’t changed in 30 years. It needs a facelift.”
The Business Relief Program would also enforce updated zoning regulations, which will ensure a cohesive theme along the different storefronts on Farmington Avenue while also allowing for some distinctive design.
“Right now, if you drive on Farmington Avenue, there is a mismatch between the businesses,” said Lomaglio. “We need to make sure that the avenue has the same landscape, that’s why the town needs to step up and look at zoning regulations.”
In addition Lomaglio proposed forming the Farmington Avenue Merchants association — a group of local business owners who would meet once a month to discuss ways to cross-promote each other and share ideas to increase foot traffic.
The business representatives suggested some of their own ideas.
Tracy Shipman, an owner of Dragonfly Home & Gift, said that “there is a lot of potential in Berlin,” and that making Farmington Avenue more appealing is essential to the town's successful economic growth.
“Aesthetics is everything,” said Shipman. “If you are not from the area and you drive down Farmington Avenue, it’s ‘ehh,’ even though we have a lot of great shopping options. Right now, there’s nothing that would make you say ‘Wow, I want to come back and check this out.’”
Farmington Avenue, said Shipman, is “very walkable” and would be perfect for art walks, during which town residents and visitors could enjoy art exhibitions by local artists.
Meanwhile, Pistol Creek, which Shipman described as the “hidden jewel of the town,” can be potentially used for summer concerts.
“I feel like we don’t need huge changes,” said Shipman. “Some of the simplest things will make a huge difference.”
While talking to business representatives, Lomaglio also brought up the idea of attracting new types of businesses to Berlin. The owner of The Avenue restaurant, Jamie Bomova, agreed with him adding that:
“We overly condense our town with too many alike businesses.”
Diversifying Berlin with original shopping and eating options will strengthen the town economy and provide more auspicious conditions for existing businesses, Lomaglio believes.
“It’s easy to put extra pizzerias and nail salons, but it hurts the local businesses that have been here for years,” said Lomaglio. “There is not enough money to go around in a town of 20,000 people.”
The town Economic Development Commission, Lomaglio added, needs to start thinking “post-pandemic” and advertise the town of Berlin to attract “bigger-scale companies.”
“We need more businesses affiliated with technology, transportation, communication — that’s the future now. The box stores are slowly fading away,” said Lomaglio. “We have so much to offer in the town of Berlin but we don’t seem to market it properly. We are between New York, Boston, and Providence, there’s no reason we can’t do that.”