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From ballet to barbering, changes at Groton Shopping Plaza

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Groton — Through the pandemic, business changes have moved forward at Groton Shopping Plaza — between Long Hill Road and Plaza Court — with recent months bringing the opening of International Dance and Fitness Academy, the relocation of Sew-it-All, and a name and management change for the former Wayne's Barber Shop, now The Cave Barbershop.

Tracee Jackson opened International Dance and Fitness Academy on Oct. 1, offering ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop for kids and adults, plus different creative movement classes for kids.

In the dance fitness realm, IDFA offers barre, Zumba, stability ball and different dance-inspired high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts.

"Nobody is going to feel intimidated here," said Karma Smith, who does administrative work for Jackson. Clients range from 7 to 75, and barre instructor Karen Ricardo said a single class can include different levels of moves.

Adult classes, which are offered on a drop-in basis, are $15 for dance and $10 for dance fitness, with dance fitness also open to kids. Children's dance classes are $55 a month for one dance class a week; all classes are an hour. Most of the classes run between 5 and 8 p.m.

In addition to Jackson, IDFA has four dance instructors and three dance fitness teachers.

Beyond the lobby, where visitors are required to get their temperature taken and use hand sanitizer, the center includes two 1,600-square-foot dance studios. Class participants aren't required to wear masks but are instructed to stand on socially distanced stickers, beneath large industrial ceiling fans. They enter through the front and exit out the back.

Jackson said IDFA is also set up to do virtual classes if need be, and some students are taking classes virtually.

Jackson has been dancing for 50 years, since she was 7. The Norwich native and Norwich Free Academy graduate started at Luis Pabon Dance Arts Centre, where she later taught ballet, tap, jazz and acrobatics before opening IDFA. Jackson is still involved there, and she credits Pabon with shaping her not only into a dancer, but also into a mentor.

"Dance is a way of life for me," she said. "Everything that I think about that I do, I put my brain into the thought: What would I do if I was dancing?"

Jackson pointed to principles like balance and direction.

This isn't Jackson's first time running her own dance studio. She operated Murphy's Hi-Tech Dance Center in Norwich for 11 years, starting in the '90s, and closed due to "life changes," with children at home.

Jackson said a good friend of hers knows property manager Chris Regan and told her about the opportunity to open a dance studio.

"I fell in love with it," she said about looking at the spot. "We needed the space, and that was the most important thing, the space."

Jackson can't offer acrobatics during the pandemic, because it's hands-on, but plans to do so in the future. She also hopes to add African dance and eventually Irish step dancing.

New location

Also in October, the full-service tailor shop Sew-it-All moved from the other side of Long Hill Road to the back of the strip on the other side of the street, next to Sherwin Williams.

Owner Beth Richard said parking is better, it's quieter, and the loading dock is great for customers in a wheelchair or with a baby carriage. As a safety measure during the pandemic, she restricts her shop to one customer at a time, and others can wait on the porch.

Richard said she sanitizes the door handle and front desk area between customers, and has a floor-to-ceiling curtain behind the front desk plus another screen.

This is Richard's 29th year in business, having spent the first 20 around the corner from Washington Park. She said she is grateful to be self-employed and to have loyal customers, but the pandemic has been difficult for her business.

"A great portion of our business is people going to parties, weddings, graduations, religious services, and all of those things have been wiped off the social calendar because they all involve large groups," Richard said.

She hears the stories of brides who have had their plans upended. There was the couple whose wedding kept getting postponed, and was cut from 220 guests to 120 to 80 to 50 to 25. There was the couple who opted to have a small outdoor celebration every week for six weeks, so they could see all their friends and family.

Appointment-only haircuts

Across the Plaza Court parking lot, next to the former Benny's, Joshua McArthur had the difficult timing of taking over the Groton Shopping Plaza location of Wayne's Barber Shop in March. The Mystic location of Wayne's Barber Shop is still open.

McArthur, a New London native, had spent the past eight years working for Wayne's Barber Shop and said he always wanted to run his own business.

He said to see barbershops shut down right after taking over, "I was in shock. I think a lot of us were in shock as far as what was going on, and I thought maybe it was going to be a week or two we're shut down."

In the meantime, he got unemployment and a small business loan, and the barbershop reopened in June. He said cuts are appointment-only, customers get their temperature checked at the door, barbers wear masks, and chairs are cleaned between every cut.

He said business has been decent, though he's seen a drop in military clientele, as many have to stay on the submarine base.

McArthur, 31, said he renamed the business The Cave Barbershop because "it's supposed to be like a man cave," pointing to the sports and comic books themes, and the décor he added of old action figures, vinyl albums and musical instruments.

McArthur said he has loved the barbershop atmosphere since he was a kid, and that's what got him into the profession.

"It's very community-based; it's a time where just men get together and we talk sports or politics, anything that's going on in the world at that moment," McArthur said. He noted that "COVID has definitely changed the whole vibe of a barbershop, where guys are sitting waiting, they're chitchatting."

He's looking forward to having that back someday.


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