Change is afoot for shops and businesses in New Milford's village center.
Some stores have closed, and others have relocated or soon will. New shops have opened and storefronts left vacant for quite some time now hold the promise of a bright business future.
"I think overall, things are looking up," Mayor Pat Murphy said recently.
"Something might be going into the old paint store location on Church Street. A good candidate with a lot of interest in locating in New Milford has approached the owner of 41 Main St. I'm hopeful."
Any town's cast of downtown businesses would experience a gentle transition over the years, but the village center has seen more than its share of vacancies for several years.
The former CVS pharmacy site at 41 Main St. to which the mayor was referring has been vacant since October 2006.
Connecticut Memories' closing in July 2010 at 77 Railroad St. created a second large vacancy.
And there are more. Sassy Shoes' location at 43 Bank St. became vacant in February 2011. Joan's Candy Cupboard at 10 Church St. closed in July 2011. More recently, the Good Sport closed in March after 45 years in business at 12 Bank St.
This spring also brought the relocation of the Gregory James Gallery from 7 Main St. to a Route 202 home.
Focal Point Home & Garden closed its doors at 36 Bank St. July 28 after 16 years in business.
The Journal Register Company closed its Housatonic Publications newspaper office July 2 at 65 Bank St., relocating the staff to a Torrington office.
The picture is far from gloomy, however. Renewed life is coming to many of these locations.
The building will be restored for additional studio space to complement the couple's present 66 Railroad Street location.
"Greg McGill wanted to find a buyer who would respect the building as much as he did," Ms. Parkinson said in reference to the property's former owner.
"We love the post and beam construction," Ms. Parkinson added. "We have already removed the drop ceiling on the first floor, revealing a beautiful, sloping ceiling."
At 7 Main Street, a frozen yogurt shop called Tasty Waves plans to renovate the site and open in September.
The former Good Sport location is being filled soon when Erin Maguire's Natural Marketplace LLC at 10 Bank St. expands to include its next-door neighbor.
"We'll be putting doorways through into that space," said Ms. Maguire, who opened her shop five years ago. "It should be completed long before year's end."
Relocations under way
September 1 will witness the relocation to 36 Bank St. of Larry Schneider's Down on Main Street -- a gift store opened by Mr. Schneider two years ago at 29 Main Street.
Hours will remain Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"The old Focal Point store has a lot of character," Mr. Schneider said.
"Built in 1903, it has a tin ceiling. When I first located in New Milford, there weren't any locations available on Bank Street. I'm happy to be staying in town and will be in a location with more foot traffic."
The month of June saw Salsa restaurant relocating to 31 Bank Street from its longtime 54 Railroad Street locale. It now occupies the first floor of 31 Bank, increasing seating from 30 to 60 patrons while adding a full bar.
Hours were also extended. Salsa is now open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
"The addition of the bar was a good one," she remarked. "Margaritas are a big seller. We're staying with our tradition of using fresh ingredients, using all fresh lime juice and lemonade and fresh squeezed oranges for bar drinks."
Old business returns
A business that left the village center in 2007 returned in July. The Golden Needle opened its doors at 46 Bank Street, offering patterns, yarns, silks and instructions for needlepoint, hook rugs and other stitching yarn crafts. Custom needlework pieces can also be ordered.
"I moved to a larger space on Route 202 five years ago, but soon realized it was a mistake," said Linda Bookspan, The Golden Needle's owner of 21 years.
"I'm back for the downtown location with its foot traffic. I'm here Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m."
Spaces to be filled
With Down on Main Street's move, the storefront at 29 Main Street will be vacated. No new tenant is signed to move in, Mayor Murphy said.
"We've had many calls on the 2 Bank Street building," said Jim Stewart, vice president of Bank Street Investments, the owner of the property, "but no one definite has signed to move in yet."
Mayor Murphy is hopeful the landlords of these and other open storefronts in the village center are advertising their properties at this time.
"I had a meeting with the downtown property owners that brought suggestions and a good conversation about the difference in marketing downtown businesses," Mayor Murphy said, "and locations from those on Route 7."
"That is one of the reasons we've upgraded the sidewalks on the Green and made Main Street improvements," the mayor said.
"We've installed the planters and have a purchase order in place for plants to fill them. We're just waiting for the Garden Club's assistance in choosing the plantings."
Signs directing Route 7 motorists into the village center have been replaced with new signage and landscaping has recently been completed around them.
One sign on Route 7 South says "Welcome To New Milford" and a smaller, hang-down sign with an arrow pointing to the right-hand turn across Veterans Memorial Bridge is being added to it, the mayor said.
Development supervisor needed
Mayor Murphy noted marketing the downtown would be easier with an economic development supervisor on staff, as would marketing the town be in general.
On June 26, Christopher Blocker, who had been hired to the position in January, was fired.
"We're still wading through applications," Ms. Murphy said.
"The challenge is matching the educational standards required with the personality that will interact well with all the members of the economic development corporation and commission as well as the business community."
Ms. Murphy noted the EDS position could be somebody's "dream job." She's looking for a qualified applicant who will feel that way.
For more photographs, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.