There was a time not too long ago when the pundits of downtown began banging the war drums about the lack of businesses in the center of Southington.
What they forgot is that Southington is resilient. From the days of Oxley Drug Store, Guterch’s and Hutton’s Men clothing, Grimaldi Shoes, DePaolo Furniture, Popular Restaurant, Tony’s Cash & Carry to today, this community has admired the past and unlike other communities, never faltered in their economic faith from the Town Green to the old railroad tracks.
Many of us old enough can remember the huge Dutch Elm trees on the Town Green, do agree somewhat with those complainers of yesteryear. There actually was a moment in time with the front neon lights in the windows of my dad’s Center Street restaurant, appeared to illuminate the 200 yards of Center Street in the evening.
It was during that stretch of years when Queen Street began to flex its muscles with plazas, gasoline stations and fast food outlets. It looked like downtown was hardly an explosion of business. Residents believed downtown was doomed.
Today, a parking spot on a weekend night is like finding a Christmas Tree Shop on West Street. Yet, it’s not just an evening or weekend. Ironically, employees of businesses downtown or left over cars, dominate the so-proclaimed “municipal parking” areas.
Southington is now a destination for the night crowd and diners. The parking lots are jammed from South Center to Main Street. Parked cars dominate side streets, bank lots and squeeze next to the Green. “I compare downtown Southington on weekends to Newport, Rhode Island during the summer,” bragged Jack Eisenmann, a Philadelphia suburb native now a local resident.
The mass of humanity downtown today wasn’t exactly a forgone conclusion years ago. Town leaders did their best to make downtown a bit more inviting like eliminating parking meters, restricting two-way traffic, installed bump-outs making the street pedestrian friendly. Then like Manna from Heaven, the Jaycees originated the famous Apple Harvest Festival which saw downtown swarmed with thousands of people for two weekends who realized Southington was more than a sports town.
Not to be outdone, the local Italian organizations threw in an Italian-American weekend festival during July. People came from all over the state every July and October, more and more and downtown began to become far beyond anyone’s imagination.
Now, let’s be honest. Remove the bars and eateries from downtown and we could just have a barber shop, coffee shop, drug store. The beverage industry is doing well with seven packed bars filled with new patrons and plenty of regulars. New faces from Bristol, Plainville, New Britain are seen here along with residents who enjoy the new condos that are springing up from downtown to the borders.
The restaurants have no complaints. There’s an assortment of them downtown, although a tiny portion of the 119 restaurants that call Southington home. The places are casual, upscale and darn good.
Patrons can also enjoy a refurbished former downtown factory that features a new chocolate shop, a bar with vintage video games and of course, a popular beer brewery near the walking trail. Not many communities feature a downtown that has flourished as Southington.
Southington remains a quaint downtown village during the day, but when the sun disappears, get there early.