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Businesses moving into former Ledyard Center School

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Ledyard — After residents voted at a 2019 town meeting to approve the sale of the Ledyard Center School building, it is welcoming a new class of occupants: local businesses.

The building is home to a liquor store and an Asian market, with a day care, barbershop and physical therapist in the process of moving in.

Colleen Davis, owner of GOAT Physical Therapy and Wellness, has been running her business at Waterford Fitness and Training since 2019. She said most of her clients are in the high-risk category when it comes to COVID-19, and when everything shut down in March 2020 because of the pandemic, many of them stopped attending their sessions because they weren't comfortable being around so many people in the gym space.

"I needed somewhere that my higher-risk clientele could come and feel safe and I could control the environment more," she said, noting that many of her clients struggled to follow along with online sessions.

Davis said she loved the school renovation idea and the location, since everyone in town is in Ledyard Center at some point for errands. As a Gales Ferry resident, she wanted to be part of a project that would bring more people and revenue into town.

She said her office is probably in the old kindergarten wing, as the two classrooms that were renovated to become her space both have bathrooms.

While there are no actual goats in any of GOAT's programs — Davis said people have asked — she's looking forward to offering more group exercise classes and one-on-one personal training in the new space, in addition to her flagship program for adults returning to fitness after an injury or medical issue.

Babbling Bambinos, a new day care facility housed in the school's left wing, is slated for a full opening in February, though owner Stephanie Davis — who is not related to Colleen Davis — has been offering a distance-learning space for school-age children after surveying parents in town.

Stephanie Davis, a Pawcatuck resident, said she had wanted to start a day care when her four children were younger but occupancy limits for in-home day cares would have allowed only three more children, so she decided to wait until they got to high school.

She said she first toured the space, which includes the former library and art room and is separated from the rest of the building, in January 2020, loved it and signed the lease in March; pandemic-related delays prevented her from opening for the start of the school in August.

Babbling Bambinos hosted an open house for prospective families earlier this month, and Stephanie Davis said many parents were familiar with the building and liked what she had done to revamp the space. But for her, the best part was seeing the kids' reaction.

"I noticed that with all of the kids that came through (that weekend), none of them hesitated to go and play," she said, noting that kids are often nervous in a new setting. "There was no fear of being there, and that just made my heart melt. It made every moment of this worth it."

The former nurse's office has become a one-stop shop for Filipino cuisine with Catalina's Asian Groceries, run by Ledyard residents Catalina and Mirek Gladczuk. The market opened earlier this month, and while it's primarily geared toward Filipino offerings, many ingredients in the store are used in other Asian dishes. Mirek Gladczuk said the best sellers so far are egg rolls, lumpia and the wide selection of snacks.

He said Catalina had always wanted to open an Asian market, and when she was laid off from her job at Foxwoods due to the pandemic, she decided that was her opportunity. It took about six months of work to open the store, and their son, who attended Ledyard Center School, has been working there as well to help get it up and running.

"We have very strong support by Ledyard and the Filipino community," he said. They're working on refining their hours, but he noted it was important to stay open for times that would accommodate casino workers.

The Gladczuks also run CM Global FWD, a shipping company offering flat rates for delivery of household goods to the Philippines. While the shipping business is mostly operated off-site, Mirek Gladczuk said the two businesses work hand in hand.

A space for alumni to shine

Chris Frye always wanted to have his own barbershop in Ledyard Center, but he didn't expect to open it in his old elementary school.

He plans to celebrate the forthcoming opening of his new business, Frye's Barbershop, by cutting his 1-year-old son's hair, using a mirror that belonged to his grandmother to show his son his new haircut. He said even though his grandmother's haircuts weren't that great, he treasured the bonding time they had while she cut his hair.

"First and foremost, I'm making sure everyone is safe, that everything I need is provided, but secondly, I'm making a place that people are comfortable to come in and be themselves," he said. "For me, that's what cutting hair is all about."

He's in the process of moving in and making it feel like home, but he said it won't truly feel like home until his customers come in.

Like other owners moving into the former school, Frye said he liked the location in the center of town, with the combination of daily hustle-and-bustle and small-town feel. He's also grateful for the support of the community, noting that it's a special opportunity to be able to open a business at a time when others are struggling.

Alumni Wine and Spirits had the shortest move of all, relocating from across the street into the former gym. Owner Kenneth Paulk said he got the moving done on Jan. 1 because it's one of the three days a year liquor stores are closed, and opened the store in its new location the next day.

Both Paulk and his wife are Ledyard High School graduates, and Paulk attended Ledyard Center School for fourth through sixth grades after moving from Gales Ferry. He said several customers have shared their school stories, including one man who told him that the register is located where he sat for kindergarten.

The stage in the space is being used for storage, but once the inventory is moved, Paulk said he's going to install all the Ledyard memorabilia he's received over the years on the back wall behind the display cases. He kept the basketball hoops, now covered in sponsor wraps, and a few customers have suggested replacing the promotional cardboard cutouts of celebrities with those of favorite teachers.

"There's so many contact points for people, even more so for the gymnasium, so you get all kinds of stories," he said, highlighting the gym's use not only for school but also for recreational activities and voting. "I'm glad that I kept everything because it brings them back."

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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