Small businesses fear they may take hit

New London - "Tower S" is the code word at Pfizer New London for a meeting or "happy hour" at Stash's Café across the street.

But now, the "Tower S" ham, turkey and bacon sandwich that the restaurant and bar features is on its way to becoming an anachronism. Pfizer is closing up the real Towers A, B and C at its waterfront campus on Pequot Avenue in New London and relocating employees across the river, to Groton.

The impact of the move on Stash's and other small businesses from Pequot Avenue to Bank Street could be devastating, local business owners said Monday. In the same breath, they're hoping the corporate giant soon finds a new tenant for the waterfront property that would keep customers coming into the city.

"It's disappointing, but not shocking," said Stash's owner Graham Thompson. "How it's going to affect my business remains to be seen. If the building gets filled right away, it may be less peril."

The total number of Pfizer employees in the region will remain at about 5,000, the company said, and the corporate giant is actively marketing the property for sale or lease.

"Now the faucet's totally shut off," said Brian Brother, owner of Raiders' Roost - located off one of the traffic circles leading to the Pfizer New London campus - when he first heard the news.

Emphasizing that he's in business "for the long haul," Brother said he opened the restaurant three years ago when Pfizer's New London presence was "one of the main attractions." The possibility of a Coast Guard museum at Fort Trumbull fueled the positive energy, he said.

Candy's Cozy Kitchen and the Bulkeley House, which have done a lot of catering and luncheon orders for Pfizer, said the impact will be significant.

"It's sad," said Amy Mase, vice president of the Bulkeley House. "It's probably going to take away from the businesses in town. It's a huge loss for New London. A good 70 percent of our parties are for Pfizer. They get us through our wintertime."

Mase showed off a back room with a mural of downtown New London on the wall, a favorite for Pfizer meetings and parties of up to 40 people, she said.

"They love this private room," Mase said. "We've really built up a relationship with a lot of the people there."

When it comes to new tenants for the property, she added, "Anybody to fill the space would be good, as long as they eat."

At Candy's Cozy Kitchen on Bank Street, Tom Murphy, a program director, said 15 percent of the business, which provides on-site training for the mentally and physically disabled, comes from Pfizer. At times, the shop gets orders for 30 sandwiches and wraps from the company, he said.

As for Thompson, he said his core of regulars at Stash's should sustain the business.

"Hopefully we're going to hold our own," he said. "It's going to be a challenge."

The "Tower S" remains on the menu, he said. The meat is smothered in honey Dijon mustard and mayo, perched on the diner's choice of bread, and rounded out with chips and a pickle.

"It's a good sandwich," he said.

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