From gas station to wine bar

When I first heard of plans to convert a Mystic gas station into a wine bar, I thought of the 1982 Steven Spielberg movie "Poltergeist."

Toward the finale of the movie, some may remember, we learn that the house that was so horrifically haunted was built on a cemetery, and they didn't move the bodies.

Oh no, I thought, while reading about plans for the gas station. They are going to build a wine bar there without removing the gas tanks.

Indeed, the application for zoning approval specifically states the café tables are going to be in the old garage bays and the canopy over the island where the gas pumps used to stand would remain in place.

Eating and drinking in a former gas and oil dispensary seemed scary.

But I subsequently learned from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection that the tanks were removed from the former Frank's Exxon Station on Broadway back in 2012.

In fact, it looks like the site is especially clean, compared to most gas stations in the region.

Two 6,000-gallon tanks, one for diesel and one for gasoline, were removed in October 2012. They were in good condition, with no evidence of pitting or corrosion, according to DEEP.

In addition, 20 soil samples all came up clean.

Nothing scary at all.

It will be interesting to see what the neighbors think of the idea of the conversion as it now begins moving through the approvals process, including an application for a liquor license.

If I lived nearby I would heartily welcome this proposal.

The applicant for the café is an owner of Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington, itself an unusual reuse of a property, from abandoned airport to vineyard, with the old Quonset-style airplane hangar handsomely remade into a tasting room and popular wedding venue.

The airport conversion was the work of Merrily Connery and her husband, Michael Connery, a former partner in a prominent New York City law firm.

I spoke with Michael Connery back in 2011, before writing a column complaining about how he had left a renovation of a prominent building on lower State Street long unfinished, the storefront covered with ugly plywood.

His building, the former Kientzy Jewlers, is one of the first things you see downtown when you get off a train or ferry, and I told Connery it was too bad he found the money to invest in the Stonington airport conversion but not a prominent downtown New London building.

I am glad to now publicly commend him for finally finishing the exterior of the State Street building, which was completed some time ago. It is still not rented, but it now boasts a handsome new façade. It's been a substantial improvement and a good example for the owners of other dilapidated downtown buildings.

It may also turn out to be a wise investment, if the National Coast Guard Museum gets built across the street.

So, neighbors of the old Frank's Exxon, I would urge you to think positively about a new wine bar on Broadway.

The Connerys seem to have an excellent track record of doing quality work and following through on what they promise. I suspect the converted gas station, with new landscaping and indoor and outdoor seating, will be a credit to the town. It could make an intriguing and attractive gateway to downtown Mystic.

Remember, too, what else might be possible if the wine bar is turned down. What if someone were to install new tanks and reopen the gas island?

The clink of glasses, it seems, would be preferable to the ding ding from cars going in and out of a service station.

I'm also hopeful that a successful wine bar in Mystic could herald a second vineyard-affiliated wine bar on lower State Street in New London, some day welcoming museumgoers.

A new version, a reboot, of "Poltergeist," by the way, is on its way, due to open in May. It stands to be popular, given that the original has been ranked by critics as among the scariest movies of all time.

This one looks scary, too, because, well, they didn't move the bodies.

This is the opinion of David Collins

Twitter: @DavidCollinsct



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