Walk into any of the hip little businesses on State Street in New London, and you’re guaranteed a warm welcome.
Hi, I’m Nicky Bonano, and I’m from Arciolinda at 52 State Street. I do custom draperies, valances, bedding, upholstery, I also exhibit other people’s art in hopes to get them exposed in New London area – we’ve kind of become a little art community here.
Bonano used to run her business out of her home, but just three months ago, she took the leap to a storefront operation here in downtown New London – lured in part by a new city run subsidy program that pays some 425 dollars of her rent each quarter.
It just covers the little things that you don’t think about – you know, the last minute purchases. Just when you get established you don’t really know how much the electricity’s going to be – if someone’s really going to come through the door.
New London’s downtown has been struggling for decades now. In fact one in three storefronts in New London are vacant – more than 70 empty retail spaces in all. The commercial rent subsidy program – thought to be the first of its kind in the state, is one way to begin to tackle the problem.
It really showed me there is help out there – the City of New London wants it to get better, and people are working really hard behind the desks to make that happen.
Seven new businesses have qualified for this first round of funding, which will pay up to four dollars per square foot. City officials say they chose businesses they thought would complement those around them, and they only filled storefronts that had been vacant for more than six months.
A little further up State Street, Cadmarie, a newly opened nail salon and spa, is already bustling. It’s owned by Cadmarie Bordeaux and her husband Adrian. Cadmarie says opening a business in her hometown is a long time dream.
I’ve been a nail tech for 20 years in this town, and making this leap was not easy, but I figure, what is it, you know let’s do it! What do you have to lose? So I tried it, and so far I like it.
Cadmarie is also supported by the rent subsidy program, and will receive 28 hundred dollars this year in help from the city.
Downtown has changed, but it’s changed for the better, and I’m very glad to be part of it. Knowing that we have the ferries, and we have more people coming in and out. We’ve got the train station, we’ve got the bus station, and when we do get the cruise ships, I think it’s going to be excellent to have all these businesses open.
The attrition rate for newly opened small businesses can be frightening. The City’s Economic Development Coordinator Ned Hammond says he hopes the program will go some way to prevent the kind of turnover that has plagued downtown.
The struggle can sometimes put them out of business within a year or two. So we’re hoping that by this program and some of the other programs that we have that these businesses will get through that first year, that second year, and get established well enough that they’ll be here for the long term. The longer they’re here, the better off we are, as far as the city is concerned.
But it’s expensive, in a time when budgets are tight – New London spent 25 thousand dollars on the first year of funding, and has approved another 25 thousand for the second. Ned Hammond says it remains to be seen if there will be the political will to continue.
These are tough times for all municipalities, New London is no different. And that’s going to be the key question – how we continue to support such a program. It’s tough, it’s a tough decision for the councilors.