Progress is now visible and audible on Main Street in Norwich
Norwich ― City leaders celebrated the economic development successes of the past two years Thursday morning, but the future of Main Street was visibly on display at the end of the two-hour presentation.
As more than 60 people gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Hotel Callista in the former Elks Club at 352 Main St., a crane worked across the street to demolish part of the blighted former YMCA to create the new Crossings at 345 ― the new headquarters for Mattern Construction, Inc.
In between, the colorful So Delicious food truck was parked on Main Street. Owners Anibal Cintron, 37, and his girlfriend, Jannette Velez, 41, were among 10 Norwich businesses receiving Business Retention, Expansion, Attraction and Development awards from NCDC on Thursday. The awards came in the form of cutting boards.
Cintron and Velez launched their business at last May’s Memorial Day parade, and by this summer, they hope to add a second truck offering Caribbean tropical fruit treats. They park the truck daily at Norwich Harbor on Chelsea Harbor Drive, directly across from the Marina at American Wharf, where extensive renovations are underway.
New marina owners Patrick and Brittany Dwyer also received a BREAD award Thursday, along with Eric Mattern, president of Mattern Construction, and Hotel Callista manager Amit Patel for his grand opening. The NCDC annual meeting Thursday was the first major event in the hotel ballroom.
Mayor Peter Nystrom credited NCDC President Kevin Brown for his leadership in the economic development agency, but Brown pointed to the private investors who have committed their professions and dollars to Norwich revitalization.
“I didn’t step up like Eric Mattern. I didn’t step up like the Dwyers,” Brown said. “We have a lot of people, private and public, that are making this thing go. We’ve got to keep the door open. We’ve got to keep our minds open. We’ve got to be willing to accept a little bit of risk here.”
Norwich used $4 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act grant money to create the Norwich Revitalization Program, awarding matching grants to businesses. Brown said for small business recipients, the match turned out to be $2 of private money for every dollar of grant, and about $9 of private money to $1 of city grant money.
The BREAD awards celebrated large and small businesses, not all of them grant recipients. Recipients ranged from the Mini Melts ice cream manufacturing operation at 245 Asylum St., to the 3 Sisters Beauty Bar and Boutique at 48 Franklin St. in NCDC’s Sunlight Building, and Barks and Recreation dog care business in the agency’s Foundry 66 shared workspace center at 66 Franklin St.
Brown joked that he first visited the Mini Melts operation because he wanted free ice cream. The production plant is a key employer in the city, Brown said, and most people don’t realize the flavored mini ice cream balls sold around the world, in convenience stores and major sports arenas are created in Norwich.
“If you eat a Mini Melts in California, it came from Asylum Street in Norwich, Connecticut,” Brown said. “Every single one of them is produced here. That’s one of those stories we should be celebrating.”
Deanna Brook, Mini Melts production controller and human resources director, said the company was acquired by California-based Altamont Capital Partners on Nov. 30, but the company will remain in Norwich and will expand to open a trucking distribution center at 19 Ohio Ave. in the Norwich business park.
Brook said the company “took a nosedive” during COVID-19, forced to lay off all but four of its 30 employees for six months. With amusement parks and stadiums shut down, the owners turned to convenience stores to sell the retail product, including 350 Wawa’s stores starting in 2021, with a distributor based in Florida.
“This year, at the end of 2023, we manufactured more than 28 million cups of ice cream,” Brook said to loud applause by more than 50 people at Thursday’s meeting.”
The company has 350 employees nationwide and about 70 in Norwich, Brook said, and is looking to expand. The company plans to purchase 36 tractor-trailer trucks for the distribution center.
“So, I think we’re going to be here for a long time,” Brook said.
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