Taftville barbershop turns grand opening into a festival Friday
Norwich — Brenda and Carlos Ventura first walked into the vacant storefront at 1 Jewett City Road in Taftville in June and had different reactions on whether this space could make Carlos’ dream of opening a barbershop a reality.
Carlos Ventura, 40, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic where he was a barber, was skeptical. His wife, Brenda, 36, also a hairdresser and originally from Boston, had a vision for how the rundown, debris-strewn neglected space could be revived for the betterment of Norwich and themselves.
With music blaring, a food truck, ice cream stand and a few craft vendors set up in the side lot, and about 40 city leaders, family, friends and supporters on hand Friday, the couple cut the ribbon for the grand opening of Ventura Barber Shop. They planned to top off the celebration Friday night with fireworks from the shop next door, but it had closed for the season, Brenda Ventura said.
The barbershop has four chairs, a counter along the opposite wall with bar seating for waiting clients. Brenda Ventura, who will serve as business manager, designed the shop and built the metal-framed hanging lights.
The space "was a mess” when they first walked in, Brenda, a 10-year Norwich resident of Puerto Rican descent, said.
Their work immediately impressed Kevin Brown, new president of the Norwich Community Development Corp. Brown visited the couple as they worked during his second day on the job in early July. That was two months before the City Council approved a $2 million grant to NCDC from the city's federal American Rescue Plan grant to promote economic development.
On Friday, Ventura Barber Shop received the inaugural check from that grant, $10,073 to cover a portion of the building code upgrades. The grants reimburse matching amounts a developer or building owner puts into a project. But Brown said the Venturas put in well over the required matching amount, plus all their time to do much of the work themselves.
“It was a clear and obvious first choice,” Brown said of the grant.
Brenda Ventura translated her husband’s comments to the gathering at Friday's ceremony, as he thanked God, family and friends for their support and encouragement.
“For me,” Carlos Ventura said, “after God, my family is the most important. All of my efforts and my work and my time are to please my family, and all of you are my family now.”
The couple has two sons, Gabriel, 9, and Caleb, 1.
Brenda Ventura thanked everyone who provided financial, physical support or even words of encouragement.
She singled out one friend who literally held the broken pipe that sprayed the room with water on their first day of work to clean out the space. That piece of broken pipe now is framed and hangs on the wall inside the pristine shop.
Brenda Ventura said she wanted to be part of an economic revival in Taftville, which she called a “diamond in the rough.” She thanked Carlos for “trusting the process” to get their business up and running.
“I want to say to you entrepreneurs out there, believe in Taftville,” Brenda Ventura said. “We’re here to stay,” she added.
Within minutes after cutting the big red ribbon, Carlos Ventura was cutting hair for his first client, Peter Helms of Norwich, who owns a small business, Main Plug on Main Street in Norwich.
“I wanted to support the new barbershop and what’s going on here,” Helms said.