Again for Spring 2017, I assigned Global Cities, Local Streets: Everyday Diversity from New York to Shanghai to my class (Urban Studies 201) “From Hartford to World Cities” at Trinity College. To help the students get more out of the book and connect it to local shops beyond the six global cities covered by the book, I asked them to visit a local shop or other businesses in their hometowns or else where to write a short blog for the Discussion page of this website.The local shops and businesses they wrote about vary in size, type, location, and ownership, but they share a few important functional features such as serving the convenient commercial needs of local residents and as their social interaction spaces. While some of them appear to have been part of gentrification, others seem to maintain their local authentic attributes, thanks to clear municipal zoning ordinances that restrict gentrification. Below you can read these posts with photos and make comments on them.
Over spring break this year, I visited friends in Florida and Louisiana. While in Miami, one of my favorite restaurants was called My Ceviche. Only 5 years ago, in March of 2012, partners Sam and Roger opened the first My Ceviche in South Beach. It was originally opened as a take-out window, but after just a few successful months, they began to look for potential locations to open up their second My Ceviche. Now they have six prominent locations. Appealing to both locals and tourists, the demand for fresh seafood was growing. Their quick service and light eating menu options made this an ideal hot spot for the fast-paced lifestyle most people lived while in Miami.
My own experience as a Miami tourist at My Ceviche for the first time was exactly that. We walked in and within 10 minutes our food was brought to our table. Fresh, delicious, and not too filling. The portions served were perfect. You left feeling full, but because of the light and fresh ingredients, you did not feel over-full or bloated like you usually experience after a dinner out. All of my friends ordered different menu items from the classic ceviche to burritos to chips and guacamole to tacos to ceviche over a salad. We all tried a little bit of each other’s orders, and there was no dish we didn’t all enjoy.
During my time in Miami this break, I didn’t realize how massive the spanish-speaking community was throughout Miami. During our entire stay, every single one of our Uber drivers was a native spanish speaker, some didn’t speak any English at all. It made sense that this city had so many delicious authentic spanish restaurants to offer, due to the large spanish-speaking population. We found a lot of good taco shops, a few ceviche places, and a really good Cuban restaurant. It’s interesting to see how different communities of different cultures can really transform a city. For example, in my hometown which is heavily populated with Italian and Irish immigrants, you can find really good authentic Italian restaurants, but if you’re looking for authentic taco places, it can be very difficult to find one. Just as when in Miami, we found countless authentic taco places, but the one Italian restaurant we went to, wasn’t authentic and the food was not that good. It’s extremely interesting how people can individually transform cities little by little by infusing their culture into everyday venues such as restaurants like My Ceviche.
After hours of walking in the crowded yet beautiful streets of South Beach Miami, my hunger pain became increasingly louder. By the sound of my rumbling stomach, I needed fuel. Given our unfamiliarity with the area, we politely asked our hotel clerk for a recommendation on top rated, cheap eats and sure enough her answer was TACOS! Yes, more tacos that we had just eaten the night before but we did not think twice about going for a second round. The hotel clerk was even nice enough to offer a discount to the nearby Taco Rico Tex-Mex. After walking for three short minutes, the lingering smell of fresh salsa and seasoned grilled meat was wrapped around the corner signaling the Taco Rico joint. We were greeted by a short, elderly woman who spoke little English. It was a clear, sunny day so we decided to enjoy our meal while watching the tourists and Miami natives move about the streets in front of us. Now I must mention the savory salsa options. I had never been to a tex-mex where customers are free to select and gather the salsa of their liking with no restrictions. Knowing me, I wanted all of them. While waiting for our meal, I eagerly reached for the warm tortilla chips and dove into the garden salsa first. I immediately enjoyed a burst of flavors running rampant across my taste buds. The perfect mix of fresh vegetables left me wanted more so I tried two other salsas and happily stored some to carry out. I ordered the Baja Bowl which was just as pleasing as the nine salsa options. I’m not sure who was responsible for producing those mastery pieces of a meal but I greatly appreciated the authenticity, kindness, and the setting of the restaurant and its workers. Taco Rico Tex-Mex brings light and ethnic diversity to South Beach Miami. I will definitely return and/or recommend!
Piece by Jean Germano As was typical of my myriad journeys on Hartford’s public transit system I found myself hurriedly consulting the Transit Application on my phone as I boarded the Locust Street Line on the first day of Spring Break, the sole option to make my way into the industrial areas to the south of Colt Park. I had been in the Southern Industrial Park on past occasions out of curiosity of how it measured up to similar locales in the Midwest. A recent visit to Trinity by Professor Sarah Bronin who heads Hartford’s planning commission returned my thoughts to the area as her discussion on the latest comprehensive zoning plan for Hartford mentioned a desire to rezone and redevelop the areas in southeastern Hartford near the Connecticut River. Particularly noticeable on the plan is a “Connecticut River overlay district” over the footprint of the Hartford airport. This led me down a line of inquiry ending at the offices of Total Aircraft Parts at the Brainard Airport.
The Brainard Airport when it opened in 1921 was the only airstrip between New York and Boston. Since then the establishment of Bradley International and other municipal strips has filled the gap between these two major cities. It is a “general aviation airport” meaning that most flights from the airport are not tied to a fixed schedule. Some Hartford proponents have questioned if the large tract of land occupied by Brainard couldn’t be redeveloped to better serve the city’s need for revenue. In response the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT), the airport’s operator, performed an inquiry into the matter launched in 2015. A Hartford Courant article from December of 2016 said the report was submitted to a committee but failed to mention results. This was the last journalistic report I noticed so it made sense to inquire with a business owner at the airport whose prospects would be directly be impacted by any announcement.
Total Aircraft Parts and Maintenance is located on the Brainard Airport’s tarmac a short distance from the airport’s main terminal building. They are a parts dealer for Cessna and other small aircraft manufacturers, in addition to that the company also services piston and turbine powered aircraft. After registering at Brainard’s front desk and getting buzzed onto the tarmac I made my way through the front door of a multipurpose hangar that also hosts the offices of the Connecticut Flight Academy. Total Aircraft located on the first floor features storerooms for parts and a front reception desk that connects to a hangar area where customer planes are serviced. My first visit was focused on learning about the conclusion of the CTDOT inquiry and if I’d be able to find someone interested in talking about Total Aircraft’s history. I was pleasantly surprised to find Total’s founder at the front desk and that he was willing to talk.
Total has done its part to contribute to Hartford’s economic environment, the company’s founder Francis Neligon (or “Fran” for short) spent his earlier years pumping fuel and performing aircraft maintenance at local airports in the Hartford region. While working at a seller of parts for small aircraft quartered in Brainard he learned that his employer would be shutting down, seeing an opportunity for filling a niche he contacted the company’s existing customers and found that they were still interested in procuring parts at the airport. In 1989 Mr. Neligon founded Total Aircraft Parts and was able to reconnect with the client base of his closed down employer. Total Aircraft’s clientele is a mix of private and corporate aircraft owners in the Hartford region, many of them have worked with the company for twenty years or more. With Total established Mr. Neligon continued to look for ways to better serve his customers and in 1996 expanded into small aircraft maintenance hiring the best local mechanics he could who came with their own base of pre-existing clients. Presently Total employs six full time and two part time staff members most of whom are mechanics.
When I completed my first interview with Mr. Neligon I largely focused on getting answers about the future of the Brainard Airport and acquiring a base line knowledge of his business. I was interested to hear about the conclusion of the CTDOT study and Mr. Neligon was kind enough to forward a copy of the report’s abstract providing detail on the investigation. CTDOT’s investigation covered both the airport and the neighboring waste-to-power plant also located near the Connecticut River and was conducted with input from stakeholders from Hartford, the airport, and local developers. It was concluded that the airport provides a $43 million dollar value to the state and encourages the continued presence of major insurers in downtown Hartford. The report also acknowledges that state PILOT payments for the airport don’t completely offset Hartford’s lost taxes, but notes that site tear down and rehabilitation would be an expensive burden for cash strapped state and local governments that would fail to attract the mixed use development that might have been envisioned as a possibility for the area. The report’s ending is particularly important to businesses like Total Aircraft with a statement that speculation about Brainard’s future should end and that a decisive plan to maximize its value should be undertaken in order to encourage private investment that may have been scared away by uncertainty in the airport’s future.
Knowing that Brainard has a future during my visit to Total a few days later I focused my inquiry on Mr. Neligon’s thoughts on his company’s future. Small aircraft service is a line of work that encourages strong connections between aircraft owners and mechanics due to the specialized knowledge required to service aircraft and regulations that require a complete inspection by a qualified mechanic once a year. Meanwhile dealing in aircraft parts and being able to offer mechanics to install those parts opens up the chance to draw in new customers to the business. By expanding Total’s repertoire of parts suppliers and training company mechanics to service new generations of small aircraft (like the Cirrus SR20s manufactured in Duluth, MN, not far from my home) Mr. Neligon aims to keep up with his clients who want to fly newer craft while also drawing in younger pilots to replace some of the company’s older client base who are starting to retire from regular flying. While getting the necessary manuals and training for Total’s mechanics can be expensive the investment is a valuable one as it ensures the company can continue to sustain a reliable customer base for the maintenance arm. After completing the interview and thanking Mr. Neligon for his time I trudged through the snow to await the CT transit bus confident that while at first glance a general aviation strip like Brainard can seem like a large empty space companies like Total Aircraft choosing to call it home allows the city to maintain a valuable niche catering to small aircraft that few other urban cores can offer.
Hidden in between a multitude of ethnic restaurants and cafes on Farmington Avenue, Abyssinian is a small restaurant serving Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine. As Hartford is too far from my home in Garland, Texas, I chose to visit Abyssinian to find a little piece of home in Hartford. Authentic Ethiopian food cooked with a touch of mom’s love cannot be replaced by restaurant food, but the service and wonderful cooking at Abyssinian comes pretty close. First opened in 2004, Abyssinian serves Ethiopian food that brings people together around a large platter. Ethiopian dishes are served with a variety of stews on a thin bread made of Teff called Injera. The owner who plays a dual role as the waiter greets and sits customers as they come in the door. While recommending dishes, he also teaches newcomers about Ethiopian food and culture. Common to many small Ethiopian restaurants, service is slow, but going to the restaurant with an Ethiopian friend who can speak the language or know to call and order in before going to the restaurant can help make service operate faster.
The existence of an Ethio-Eritrean restaurant along with the many other ethnic restaurants in Hartford reflects the transnational nature of Hartford which holds in in its midst many different diaspora communities in varying sizes including Ethiopians, Eritreans, Nepali community, and a large Puerto Rican community.
Doro Wot (Chicken Stew ) , an all time favorite dish of mine. I always have to have Doro Wot when I go to Abyssinian. Go try Abyssinian, you won’t regret it!
Stratford, Connecticut is a medium sized town that borders a resourceful forest side and the good old Long Island Sound. My family has lived there for a very long time, and there seems to be very little upward mobility. The population of Stratford has a good amount of diversity, economically and racially. The town shows great deal of socioeconomic contrast on both ends. The north side holds those of much higher economic standing while the south side is the opposite. The business that I am writing about has its shop in the south end of Stratford. It is a clothing shop called “Continuations Consignment Shop”. It is centered on the strip called Merchants Walk Shopping Center which provides a few amenities to the area: Dunkin Donuts, Chinese Food Restaurant, Ice cream shop ect. Continuations Consignment Shop caters to the economically lower standing residents of Stratford. The family run business has been around for as long as I can remember, offering discounted retail items that are much more affordable to the surrounding community. To my knowledge, just the mother and daughter run the floor. Every time I have gone to the store, the two of them greeted me with a smile and a sense of pride. The environment provides a sense of community because the product has all been donated. This too reduces the effects of the wasteful retail business. The space that Continuations Consignment is located on adds to the walkable-ness of the area. The shops all have store fronts that allow for visual connections that would not of been able to be made otherwise. The premise of discounted prices on clothing, jewelry, some electronics allow more social opportunity for the lower income residents. Due to their economic standing, they are at a social loss in that the affordability of today’s culture is not directed for the lower class. Continuations Consignment grants some social standing to its customers who would not of been exposed to it before.
When I went home for Spring Break my family had its annual reunion at Casa Lac, a traditional Spanish restaurant in the old town of Zaragoza. Casa Lac opened in 1825 and it was the first licensed restaurant in Spain. For this reason, Casa Lac is nationally known as one of the most original Spanish food places and has attracted people from around the country and the world. This small local business is run by the Artiach family who has managed the restaurant for many decades.
Casa Lac, has two dark and cozy floors, separated by a small staircase that still maintains the original decoration of the nineteenth century. The lower floor was an old pastry shop that has been converted into a coffee shop. The upper floor is a restaurant, with capacity for thirty people, and it is necessary to book in advance. Casa Lac stands out, above all, for its impressive restaurant with small tables, plagued with columns and lamps that recall another century. The walls are adorned with moldings, carvings, damask curtains and portraits. When you walk into the restaurant it looks a little antiquated compared to newly built eateries next to it.
The special dish of the House is the ‘pularda de uvas’, which is poussin (small hen) with grape sauce. As a recommendation, it is best to try the main menu which includes all kinds of gastronomic dishes at an affordable price. The old recipes of its dishes make it a traditional place to eat tapas or have dinner.
It is mostly big groups or families that go to eat at Casa Lac at night while during the day people will come in and socialize with other costumers. Every Tuesday and Wednesday there are plays or performances by Spanish singers and artists.
It is interesting to see how the neighborhood around Casa Lac has been shaped by gentrification and how other small businesses that used to surround it have been replaced by 21st century food chain restaurants and retail stores. One of the reasons why Casa Lac is still thriving is because besides being a high quality local restaurant, it holds historical symbolism and is considered an ‘art gallery’ of Spanish cultural legacy.
In the center of Concord, MA (approx. 18,000 residents) is a small, yellow building that stands alone, adjacent to the town center’s commuter rail station. My family and I have enjoyed sandwiches, soups, and cookies from this establishment from the time I moved to Concord in 2000. The building itself is quite small, offering only enough space for several patrons at a time, crammed into tight quarters between the cashier and the drink cooler. Although the space is small, it adds to what is a pleasant and personal experience, rooted in the tradition of hospitality and customer service the Country Kitchen is known for. The owners take photos of customers and post them on the walls, which adds even more to the homey vibe and experience of this small-town sandwich shop. Everything on the menu is great, but a first timer might want to try a turkey sandwich, dressed how ever he or she may like it, as the turkey is roasted in house each day.
The Country Kitchen also stands out for reasons that set it apart from their local competitors. The first of which is its downtown location and close proximity to the Concord MBTA commuter rail station (see map below), which connects the suburbs, as far west as Fitchburg, to Boston, on this particular rail line. This makes it easily accessible to residents but also people from out of town who may stop to see Concord’s historical landmarks. The second thing that sets it apart, and works in conjunction with the first reason, is the fact that it opens each morning at 5am. In Concord, many people use the commuter rail to commute into Boston in order to avoid the inevitable street traffic during the week. By opening at such an early hour, residents who commute via the commuter rail have a convenient place to pickup a quality lunch for the day. In just minutes, one can park there car, buy lunch, and then be seated on a train inbound to Boston. This makes it a perfect destination for weekday commuters. In addition, it is located just 1.4 miles away from the town’s high school. Having been a student there, I can speak for many and say that we benefitted greatly from its close proximity during our open-campus lunch periods.
The prices are on the higher side, around $7 for a sandwich, but you do get what you pay for- the portions are more than sufficient. Its central location and early hours are factors of convenience that make it worth the extra dollar or so you might save by going elsewhere.
Map of walking directions from Country Kitchen to MBTA commuter rail station
Poulsbo is a small town of 10,000 people, nestled in between the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges and the Puget Sound in Washington State. Originally settled by a group of Norwegian immigrants who felt that the shores of Liberty Bay reminded them of the fjords of their motherland. Because of Poulsbo’s Nordic roots, the town is known as “Little Norway” to the region. The mascot for the high school is a Viking, the town holds an annual Viking Festival and has a very prominent Sons of Norway lodge, and most of the downtown businesses feature Norwegian themes. On the central street in the small historic downtown district, Front Street, many of the shops either sell Norwegian goods, or at the very least feature rosemaling traditional painting.
Directly in the center of Poulsbo’s Front Street lies Sluys Bakery, the best-known business in the town, and another Norway-inspired shop. Owned by the Sluys family since 1966, the bakery is a staple for Poulsbo life, and engages both town residents and visitors. Sluys is the only bakery in downtown – although several others have attempted to make their mark on this small town, nothing can compare to the popularity of Sluys, and all competition eventually fails to claim a slice of the market.
When you open the door to Sluys, you are immediately struck by a warm rush of air, rich with nutmeg, cinnamon, butter, and sticky-sweet icing. With a standing area of approximately 9 by 12 square feet, there isn’t ever much room to stand, but this tight packing of customers does not deter business from the bakery. The shop offers a range of delicious donuts and cookies that are baked on-site, in the kitchens directly behind the public space.
Sluys doesn’t escape the Scandinavian theme of the town – they sell lefse and several other traditional Norwegian baked goods, as well as various pastries that are shaped like Viking helmets. In this manner, Sluys has obvious global connections. Like the town as a whole, Sluys attempts to create a clear connection to the town’s “motherland” – even though most residents aren’t more than one-eighth Norwegian. The bakery is also known internationally for its “Poulsbo Bread,” which is no longer produced on site because the bakery lacks the production capacity to service the global demand for the bread, but it is still baked and packaged under the Sluys label.
It is critical to note the local elements of Sluys Bakery. The shop frequently donates to local events and provides discounts to students at the local high school. Their donuts are sold at local small grocery stores and the shop is a go-to stop for young and old, regardless of the season. The shop itself is managed by the son of the original owners and almost all of the employees are students from the town’s high school.
Sluys Bakery is a unique case study for the local and global elements of small businesses because of its dual nature. Although it is clearly Norway-inspired, and has global connections due to its internationally known bread, the shop is closely tied to the community and Poulsbo culture.
Upon returning home to for spring break, I went to Beans And Vines, a popular restaurant in Inwood, the Northern-most neighborhood on the island of Manhattan in New York City. Beans and Vines is a self-described “cozy” restaurant with a a dark wood aesthetic and authentic dark red brick walls. The restaurant is tiny, with only 6 two-seater tables, and 2 four-seater tables, however there are mirrors strategically placed on parallel walls to give the illusion that it is much larger. Beans and Vines sells a combination of Italian food, Seafood, and elaborate American food, which they refuse to call by the traditional colloquial names. The refusal to call traditional American foods, like french fries, by their traditional names, and instead calling them “seasoned potatoes”, points to the restaurant’s attempts to add to the neighborhoods attempts at a budding luxury lifestyle. Inwood is currently in the process of gentrification, as it was recently a latin-majority neighborhood with low-income families, it has a budding scene in middle-class white families. The rental prices are quickly rising, and new ABC businesses are opening biweekly all over the neighborhood.In the past few months, Beans and Vines has seen incredible benefits from the gentrification of Inwood. Whereas a few months ago, its busiest days were Friday-Sunday nights, where the wait for a table was not long, however when passing by throughout spring break, at any given day of the week, why time after 5pm, the restaurant was incredibly packed, with a table wait no less than an hour. The consumers of the restaurant are mostly white gentrifiers, as the majority of the hispanic residents do not go to the restaurant, one could assume it is due to the high prices for small plate portions.
Located in the heart of downtown Millburn, New Jersey, the Millburn Deli has been making their famous sandwiches for over 70 years. With over 500 customers daily, it seems bizarre that it is located in a small town with a population of ~20,000 people. However, the deli is located on Millburn Avenue, the main street that cuts through the Central Business District, and can be found among the many boutiques, cafes, boutique workout classes, and restaurants located in the downtown. With a parking lot directly next to the deli, a newly renovated eating/sitting area next-door, and Taylor Park, a popular destination for families and children in the Spring/Summer, located directly behind, it seems the deli could not be better situated for their customers.
Millburn Deli has been worshiped for its high-priced sandwiches (~$9.75), both hot and cold, since it opened in 1946 and with the daily crowds it seems the praise is not stopping any time soon. The decor further adds to the “deli experience”, as there are brightly colored humorous signs that are hanging all over the walls, the ceiling, and the refrigerators; complete with a menu so large it could take you hours to decide.
I visited “The Deli” on Sunday morning, March 19th, before heading back up to school. I was asked by a few of my friends to bring up several “Godfaddas” and “Gossip Girl” sandwiches. Since I went in the morning, I missed the huge crowds that form around lunch time since both the middle school and high school are located within walking distance, further making the deli a popular location.
My favorite sandwich is the “Godafadda” because while I am not a huge fan of chicken cutlets on sandwiches, it is hard to refuse when it is topped with fresh mozzarella cheese, Russian dressing sauce, and bacon. Other popular sandwiches are the Jay Ray (chicken cutlet, bacon, cheddar cheese, and barbecue sauce on a grilled sub) and the extremely popular Sloppy Joe, a crafted triple-decker sandwich made with cole slaw, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and deli meat served on freshly made rye bread.
These sandwiches are so delicious that my aunt and uncle, both originally from Millburn/Short Hills, would have the Deli overnight ship them Sloppy Joes to Ocean View, DE every few months so they and their golf buddies could enjoy them after a round of golf.
If you’re ever in the Northern New Jersey area, stop by and see for yourself why this deli can be found in the Sandwich Hall of Fame.