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July 19, 2010 Road to Recovery: Part II

Demographic Changes Bring Opportunities

The white tip of a three-year-old mosque peeks out from the Route 5 skyline in Berlin. It’s somewhat hidden by its neighbors, a Subway and racetrack for go-karts.

Yet it stands as a prime example of the Route 5 highway stretch, from Wallingford to Berlin, that shows change and opportunity in the face of hard economic times.

“I remember when Route 5 died in 1962 when I-91 came in. Everyone thought it would never recuperate, but it did,” said James Wolfe, commissioner of economic development for the Town of Wallingford and a town resident for almost 60 years. “Small businesses and big chains have been coexisting. Mom and pops are needed just as bad as big stores. We’re dealing with times when communities across the nation are closing their police departments and we’re still getting growth.”

The Berlin Mosque, which was built in 2007, has over 500 members and offers everything from weddings to Sunday School. It’s the perfect spot for the Greater Hartford Islamic community, according to Dr. Ali Antar, mosque president and professor and chairman of physics at Central Connecticut State University.

“Berlin is the geographic center of the state of Connecticut. It’s easy to reach, it’s just a straight shot for people,” said Antar, adding he’s proud to be a part of the surrounding community.

“From early on, we were open to our neighbors and other faiths. We have social gatherings often. The issue of the unknown is not an issue. People see what we do inside and they are welcome,” Antar said.

Others along the commercial highway share his sense that this is the place to be.

Brooke Tyler IV, vice president of customer support for his fourth generation family-owned business, Tyler Equipment Corp., believes he’s in a strategic spot to grow his company.

“Being in the center of the state on a busy road with 30,000 cars a day was a huge opportunity for us. It puts us in burger wars, car places, our competitors are all along this same road now,” he said.

Rosa’s Italian Deli has survived since the 1980s.

“We have faithful customers who came in when I first started and they’re still here. If it’s not them, they bring in their kids, and their kids’ kids. We know our customers by name, what they eat before they walk in the door,” said owner, Rosa Landino adding that a method of surviving the economic slide has been not raising or lowering her prices in the past three years.

Landino says she has seen many empty storefronts, but also growth including a new Mexican market next door to her restaurant.

For the Fortune 1000 luxury home builder, Toll Brothers, Route 5 was the chosen location to debut a luxury home community for the 55-and-older set called Regency at Berlin. It became an especially opportune time to build after a similar community a few minutes away lost its money when the housing bubble burst and was forced to board up several of its construction sites, according to Chris Bennett, assistant vice president for the Connection Division of Toll Brothers. Bennett says he was able to sell homes to many of the people who had anticipated buying in the community down the road.

“What’s interesting is we created local job growth just by building homes. We’ve sold 81 homes so far,” said Bennett, noting the project took five years to finish. “We picked this area because of its location. It’s an easy commute to Hartford and great access to all the interstate highways. You can get wherever you want to get to.”

Bennett says he’s hoping to change the “sketchy” perception that some people might have of Berlin by bringing in home buyers who can afford to spend money. Regency homes start in the upper $200,000, he said.

The latest construction along Route 5 in Wallingford is the new Sonic Drive Thru. The popular food joint has gone up in place of Yankee Silvermith Inn, a small hotel demolished by a fire.

Over the years, Sean W. Moore, president of the Greater Meriden Chamber of Commerce, has noticed a sort of musical chairs among business locations along the stretch of Route 5.

“BJs over the line of Wallingford is a new space; Colonial Flooring Plus moved; McDonalds moved a mile south on Route 5 and pretty quickly a company called Green Olive Diner moved right into the space,” Moore recalled.

“One of the interesting parts about the corridor is that there’s a lot of natural traffic for a number of reasons between Meriden and Wallingford. There’s retail, restaurants, medical and that’s why it’s sustained itself very well,” Moore said.

He’s pleased that MidState Medical Center walk-in clinic opened to serve the community just off of Route 5.

“(It) has plenty of visibility, it’s an integral part of the Route 5 corridor. It’s an interesting move to bring medical services closer to the population served,” Moore noted.


Road to Recovery Part II:

Demographic Changes Bring Opportunities

Union Feeling the Pinch Too

Openings on The Rise


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