WALLINGFORD — Business continues to grow downtown with the grand opening of a new shop on Center Street and renovations due to start soon on the building at the corner of Route 5.
J&T Gifts and Novelty opened Tuesday. The 1,100-square-foot store at 16A Center St. shares a storefront with Cliffside Brewing.
Owner Hilbert Gibbs, of West Warwick, Rhode Island, is a seasoned business owner. He has similar but larger shops in Rhode Island that also sell furniture and antiques, he said.
The Wallingford store is run by his children, Meriden residents Tina Rivera and Junior Salgado.
Rivera said she was familiar with the area and chose to open in Wallingford
“I’ve worked in different retail stores so I have a lot of experience,” she said, “and my dad has showed us through the years how to run a business. He kept us under his wing, so now basically it’s our time to fly.”
The merchandise consists of clothes, purses, shoes, small kitchen appliances, lamps, greeting cards, toys, cell phone accessories and a collection of hunting knives.
“Stuff you can’t get at Walmart,” Hilbert said, “with more to come. This is to get started. It’s something different to bring to downtown Wallingford.”
There’s municipal lots and street parking available for customers.
Gibbs said opening during the coronavirus pandemic was hard, “but we got through it. That was a blessing right there.”
Several town officials helped with the local permits.
“They got us through it in less than a month,” Hilbert said. “They worked really fast to help us out and we’re really grateful for it.”
The building, erected in 1896, is three stories and has mixed residential and commercial spaces.
The coronavirus pandemic also affected plans for the building next door, at 4 Center St.
Owners Michael Terrace Jr. and Lura Terrace purchased the large white corner building and the northern abutting property, 35 N. Colony St., in December.
Both buildings were erected in 1900 and are zoned as mixed residential and commercial use. The building at 4 Center St. is 9,096 square feet and the building at 35 N. Colony St. is 4,212 square feet.
“The coronavirus definitely put a dent in our plans for the spring,” Michael Terrace Jr. said Tuesday, “because it scared away most food-related business.”
There was some interest for an upscale wine bar and cafe, but those plans were tabled.
“Nobody is sure when the pandemic will end, and when it does end, nobody is sure how it’s going to look,” Terrace said. “If the customers have to be spread out twice as far as they originally planned, they would only be able to make half as much money as they originally planned.”
Banks aren’t lending money as easily, he added, so prospective businesses need to have more money in reserves and higher credit scores in order to get financing.
In the meantime, he wants to get up to speed with the upper-story apartments, though getting the residences emptied out to start renovations also has been delayed.
“With the coronavirus and people being out of work, it hindered our progress,” he said.
He’s close to signing with a contractor, which he said town Economic Development Specialist Tim Ryan helped find, to start exterior renovations.
“We’re just updating and trying to keep as much of the original architecture as we can,” he said.