Some property owners in the area, including those in charge of the Best Energy building and the Bogue’s Alley building, have cooperated with town efforts to update the area. Others, according to Habarek, have forced the town to “use the stick” to enforce town zoning laws and encourage them to make repairs.
Haberek said the addition of new businesses along West Broad, including a tattoo studio, a restaurant and an in-home care service, will add to the improvement efforts.
“That’s what we’re looking to do with this area: to create opportunity for entrepreneurs to live their dream,” he said. “That’s the key to the revitalization of downtown.”
The new business owners, in various stages of beginning their enterprises, agreed that the area is up and coming.
“It’s amazing to see the changes here that have happened in the past five years,” said Kristen Hillier, owner and executive director of LifeLine In-HomeCare. “I find this to be an exciting time to come into the downtown area.”
Hillier’s business will match caregivers with local families and residents needing in-home assistance. Hillier said the services could range from 24/7 care for elderly community members to pet needs and help for working parents who need someone to stay at home for a day with a sick child.
Her office, located on the side of 29 West Broad St., is fully furnished, and Hiller said she has obtained the necessary permits from Town Hall. She said she plans to start with about 100 caregivers. A nursing background would be helpful for some caregivers, but not required.
Mothers, retired workers, certified nursing assistants and college students would all be considered, she said.
“It really depends on the person,” she said. “I want someone genuine and interested in the service.”
Hillier, a Westerly resident and mother of three, credited her background in medical sales and her own aging parents as the motivation to start the business. “There’s a real need to find care in the home,” she said. “It’s a real niche of need in this area in particular.” She also plans to use her office space to sell furniture she has refurbished.
Another owner, Douglas Hanson, hopes to open the Broad Street Bar & Bistro, at 59 West Broad St., before Christmas. He said he bought the building in 2006 and obtained the zoning permit in 2011.
“I’ve always thought this was a great area, especially for a restaurant,” he said. “This is the incarnation of an idea I’ve had for a long time.”
Hanson said he was finishing the interior design and tables, and then needs state approval for a full liquor license. He described his vision for the restaurant as affordable, but high quality.
“The whole idea is that people can eat here once or twice a week without breaking the bank, while still enjoying quality dining,” he said.
Everything served will be cooked on-site, including wood-fired pizzas, pasta and burgers.
Hanson, who lives in Pawcatuck, said, “It’s definitely becoming a booming area. It just proves what I thought a long time ago about this as a sort of destination for people.”
Matthew Eckenroth, owner of Ink & Paint Art and Tattoo Studio, said that since his business opened at 37 West Broad St., the response has been favorable.
Eckenroth began his business operating out of a back entrance to the building in February, then opened in the front in July. Since moving to the front, he said, his business has become more noticeable and generates enough interest “at least to survive.”
Although Eckenroth obtained town permits in December 2012, he said he first proposed the idea of opening a tattoo studio to the town planning and zoning board in 2007, but was shot down. At that time he was interested in a spot at the shopping plaza on South Broad Street.
“I was instantly frowned upon,” he said, explaining that board members expressed concern about the proximity of his studio to Stonington High School.
His second proposal, however, was accepted.
Sally Johnson, owner and stylist at Salon Be on West Broad Street, also said she experienced delays in the opening of her shop.
Johnson signed the lease for the property in May 2012, but didn’t open until almost a year later, which she attributed to difficulties with signage regulations.
According to Johnson, the owner of the nearby granary building owns the signpost directly outside of her salon, a fact she was not aware of when she leased the property.
Johnson researched zoning laws and old deeds in the town, which had conflicting answers as to who owned the signpost. Johnson said that after unsuccessfully trying to take ownership of the post, she bought a different permit to post signage on the side of her building.
Despite a slow start, Johnson also said that her business, which offers hair, makeup and nail services, has been doing well since it opened. She said she planned to expand her current staff of two to include an aesthetician in the coming months.
“I love my clients, absolutely,” said Johnson, of Ashaway, who worked at other salons previously and had taken time off for the birth of her daughter. “Coming back to work after being out of the business for two years, you always have to grow your business back up. But it’s been going well.”
Johnson also said that working in downtown Pawcatuck had opened her eyes to the plight of homeless people in the area.
“The demographics of this area are very clear,” she said. “My store is like a window into this world.”
Since noticing the significant homeless population in the area, Johnson said she teamed up with a client who works at the WARM Center, and has begun offering free styling services before job interviews for those who use the center.
“It feels really good to be able to give back to the community,” she said.