Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Candidate for best photo of the year

graveyard 6am, originally uploaded by jahansell.

One of my finalists for best photo of the year. Nice for New Year's Eve, as we are sending 2008 to live here - and good riddance!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2nd runner up

sun dappled cornwall bridge, originally uploaded by jahansell.

A candidate for best photo of the year - iconic. anyway!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Snowy weeds

snowy weeds, originally uploaded by jahansell.

I'm out of photos of the business community for now - though in the past I've shown Art's Automotive, Jack Murtagh's liquor store, Rick's, of course, and others. The conversation continues, though!

Meawhile the snow is almost entirely gone, but here's a picture of how lovely it was here last week!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Twin Oaks cafe

twin oaks, originally uploaded by jahansell.

The Twin Oaks opened up a few months ago in the corner space formerly occupied by the Country Corner. They renovated nicely (though it seems much smaller now?) and serve a nice selection of family-friendly items. I'm due for a return visit - I've only stopped in a few times. I wish them long life and luck here - every town needs a place for a quick breakfast or leisurely brunch, and dinner on those nights when you just don't feel like cooking and cleaning up. The other new restaurant in town, Cafe Tazza, in the former Little Brick House building, is struggling and might not be around for very long.

By the way, I haven't posted anything about the other plaza occupant, Pharmacy - it's there, it's fine, it's kind of like a tiny general store with a few school supplies and craft-y things, cards and gifts and fancy toiletries, vitamins and herbal supplements, plenty of things for people in rehab, and the usual array of band-aids and tylenol. It's known for its Halloween costumes - the window is so scary in October that we had to avoid walking there when my kids were very small. And of course, with so many doctor's offices in town I'm sure their prescriptions business is doing fine. (Though as always if there's more info please post!)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Clean Bean

cleanbean, originally uploaded by jahansell.

A young woman I know bought the laundromat last year as an investment opportunity. It's another fairly stable business, I guess! She renamed it, spruced it up inside, and it continues to be an important part of the plaza.

I admire the entrepreneurial instinct. I have often wondered if I would enjoy running a business. Many of the skills I've developed over the years running a non-profit organization would apply, of course - but what kind of business should it be? And where on earth would I get the money it takes to purchase or lease the property, renovate and stock a store? I don't know how people do it - family money? investors? small business loans?

The other thing I wonder about the new startup businesses I see is, how good do their projections and market research have to be to get someone to invest or lend them money? I've seen SO many businesses come and go in Millerton - little gift shops, antique shops, housewares shops - all variants of the same idea, which seems to be: "I love beautiful things. I'm good at picking them out, everyone says so. I'd love to have a store like this, and surely everyone else will love it too."

Hopefully it's all a little more sophisticated than that, but considering how many shops open and close within a year, I wonder! Not the laundromat, though - that will always be around!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Another shopping plaza denizen

shear, originally uploaded by jahansell.

I don't know why but I've tended to forget about Shear Illusion, and the other hair salon in town, Studio 81, when I list the businesses in town. This one has been in the plaza for quite a few years (though perhaps changing owners once or twice?), just past Rick's and the Pharmacy, next door to the restaurant ( about which more tomorrow. And do read Rick's smart commentary on tcextra.com/terrycowgill - he addressed the situation of Trotta's and the plaza in the comments section with lots of historical knowledge.)

I've been to Shear Illusions only once - for the most part I happen to have built a loyalty to a salon in Millerton, near where I work. But for a while I was going to a cutter at the Millerton salon who apparently had some issues with authority - he kept leaving one salon and popping up at another. He was a great cutter so I followed him, including when he spent a brief period at Shear Illusions. But when he disappeared again I returned to where I could dash out on my lunch hour for a trim.

I shouldn't have neglected to mention the salons, because it's one of the few entrepreneurial paths women take - it's a great business and, I suspect, mostly recession-proof. (This is a digression that doesn't belong here but the point is: forget "equal pay for equal work" - men and women don't DO equal as in the SAME work, they do different work that is equally important but unequally compensated. Around here, the men work in construction trades: plumber, car repair, builder, etc. Women work in child care, house cleaning, waitressing, where the pay is a fraction what it is for the men's jobs. I've long wanted to start a program training women for the construction trades but I'd have to solve the day care problem first!) One fairly well-paying exception to that list is teaching (the more education and skills women have, the smaller the wage gap, I'd bet), and another, perhaps, is owning a salon.

One last note: Shear Illusion is very different from the salons in Millerton, which tend to be trendier (and more expensive). It serves a different clientele (more working class) - as has been pointed out to me, there is no New York bankroll propping it and the other businesses in Sharon. They are for locals, by locals, and we need them to succeed.

I've enjoyed the lively discussion in my comments section this week - those of you who are visiting from elsewhere, make sure to take a look and you'll really understand Sharon!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

One Gay Street

1gay, originally uploaded by jahansell.

Another empty store. When I moved here 11 years ago it was a hardware store - a Herrington's Outpost but I think it had been independent before that. When they closed it sat empty for a long time, but then Helen opened her gym there - maybe 5 years ago? (I first noticed it walking by with my daughter in a stroller and she's 6 now.) Helen has moved up the street and 1 Gay is now empty again. For how long?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Store for rent

clothes, originally uploaded by jahansell.

Trotta's isn't the only empty storefront in the plaza. Clothes and Collectibles closed a few months ago and I see no indication that someone is coming in.

Sharon's shopping plaza is a very odd thing. From what I've been told, it wasn't always there - maybe 25 years old? I don't know what was there before, and I can understand the impulse to create a shopping center for town, but I don't think it's very successful. In other towns around here, there is a real downtown, with a main street of shops. Millerton, Kent, and even Salisbury all have downtowns where people come to walk around, get a coffee or lunch, and shop. Of course, a grocery store needs a big parking lot - Salisbury's is behind Main Street and visually hidden; Millerton's is on the edge of town in an area that looks more strip-mall suburban, leaving the village center looking and feeling more traditional and pedestrian-friendly. There is nothing friendly about Sharon's plaza - you take your life in your hands every time you try to get in or out of the crazy parking lot, especially near the post office on a Saturday morning.

Our shopping center is not a draw for anyone outside of town. As nice as Clothes and Collectibles was, I don't know how they stayed in business as long as they did - who came to the Sharon plaza to shop? There are one or two other stores in Sharon selling what I'd consider "optional" purchases like clothes, but they are scattered around.

Instead, Sharon's storefront economy is based on doctor's offices and what I'd consider "essentials" - car repair (at least 3 shops) and alcohol - we have 2 wine/spirits shops. They all seem to have very stable businesses! (Oh, and let's not forget Helen's gym - bustling every morning for a few hours, though it serves mostly just the local "elites"!)

Future posts in this series will be about our local restaurants, bright spots on the scene (Clean Bean!) and my curiosity about people who open retail shops - how exactly do they do it?!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

End of an era

trottas, originally uploaded by jahansell.

As promised, I'm planning a week-long or so photo essay about the current status of the business community in Sharon - reflections on the downturn, the prospects for revitalization, and how small businesses can thrive in small towns. If anyone out there is still reading this (unlikely since I stopped posting months ago) I welcome comments and a dialogue!

So, as not to bury the lede: Trotta's, the supermarket in the shopping plaza, is closing. The owners were in business overall for 61 years, 25 at this site (or so I gather - note that i did no reporting for this "story!") It reminds me so much of my grandparents' clothing store in Salem, Ohio - they had it for 63 years. My uncle carried on for a while after they died, but when he wanted to retire there were no more Hansells who were interested in Ladies Ready-to-Wear, so he closed it. (Actually my sister did end up going into the "family business" but she was too young at the time to take it on, plus she would have never wanted to live in Salem!) The end of an era.

The loss of Trottas now means we have to drive 10 miles for an apple or jar of spaghetti sauce. (We can get milk and ice cream at the ExtraMart, though they carry almost nothing else recognizable as food. Red Bull, that they have.)

I'll be honest: Trotta's wasn't the world's best grocery store, and it was a common sport in town to complain about it - especially the produce department. And I will not mention here some of the encounters I had with surly employees over the years - 99.9% of the time the people working there were perfectly friendly - mostly local teenage girls, all of whom will now have to find jobs - but where?. And I know the Trottas made a point of hiring special needs teens from time to time as well., AND They did a lot to support local non-profits, the food pantry, etc.

Despite the grumbling, I realized, walking through the other day looking for bargains (everything that's left is 25% off) just how much I depend on having it there - how often I've realized in the middle of making dinner that I need a lemon, or a jar of anchovies, or that we're low on juice for the morning. If I had to drive to Freshtown in Amenia, I'd probably just go without.

I have another soft spot for Trottas: when I first moved up here, I didn't know ANYONE. And for the first year, I barely met anyone either - I was telecommuting, going to the city once a week, and my efforts to meet people had mostly fallen flat. Then my daughter was born, and I became desperate to see other adult faces. I made up an excuse to drive to town just about every day, usually because I needed to pick up this or that at Trotta's. Nobody knew my name, still, but they knew hers: she was that beautiful baby with the huge blue eyes, and I was "Abbey's Mom" - an after-thought, but at least I was having a conversation with somebody! So thank you, Trotta's, for helping me keep my sanity during that long cold winter and spring of 1999!

The space hasn't been re-rented yet, and it's impossible to say whether it will be a grocery store again in the future. I did get an email from a friend last night suggesting we all bombard Trader Joe's with the suggestion that they open up here - they're looking for new locations. How awesome would that be! They have ones in Danbury and Hartford - too far to go for groceries - so why not Sharon?? Well, I know why not - they like bigger cities. But we can dream - about Two-buck Chuck, chocolate covered macadamia nuts and all the rest!

Trottas has been the anchor of the shopping plaza, that odd little blob in the middle of town that holds the post office, a couple of banks, a laundromat and a now-empty clothing store. More on the plaza tomorrow.

Monday, December 22, 2008


snowblobs, originally uploaded by jahansell.

After a foot of snow fell yesterday, it was hard not to want to take a few photos! I apologize for my silence on this blog for the last few months - there have been many reasons why I wasn't feeling very creative! But I have a quiver full of photos for the next week or so - including a mini-photo essay on the current status of the business community in Sharon. Stay tuned.