Small businesses in Hartford struggling amid pandemic, corporate workers telecommuting, but not ready to throw in the towel


HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — All across Connecticut, mom-and-pop businesses that have been with us for generations are struggling to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ones that depend on corporate workers are really hurting. That’s the case in downtown Hartford where so many big companies are having their thousands of workers stay at home.

“It’s a year like we’ve never seen before,” James Varano told News 8’s Chief Political Anchor Dennis House. He and his wife, Dara, own Black-eyed Sally’s, a fixture across from the State capitol for a quarter-century.

“Sales are way off. I’m not going to lie to you; we are down like 60 percent where we used to be at this point but we are still here for lunch and dinner five days a week instead of seven.”

After paying bills and paying employees, Varano haven’t taken home a cent in a year. They are living off savings.

Like all restaurants, it was closed during the start of the pandemic last year. It reopened, but most of their customers haven’t come back.

The theaters are closed, sporting events and concerts are canceled, and the people who fill Hartford’s skyscrapers are working from home.

“When we closed we had about 38 employees. Now we have seven or eight.”

RELATED: CT senators discuss COVID relief bill, what it means for our state

A few blocks away, a similar story at Morneault’s Stackpole Moore Tryon. They’ve been dressing corporate Connecticut for 111 years.

“We have one employee and everyone else who works here volunteers including me and my husband,” said the owner.

The day we visited there was one customer, a young lawyer from Berlin picking up a suit for a job interview.

Both Sally’s and Stackpole’s got some help from the federal government, but Senator Richard Blumenthal told us more needs to be done: “Small businesses really make up the backbone of these towns. There are so many small towns and there are so many mom-and-pop shops in all of them. We have lost so many of them this year…What we’ve learned is don’t be shy, invest, do it big, do it now and that’s what we are trying to do with the American Rescue Act.”

Both Verano and Morneault hope they don’t need the Rescue Act but are grateful it was passed. It’s been tough, but both say it would be even harder to throw in the towel.

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