On the day after Christmas, Economic Development Commission chair Elizabeth Stocker went door-to-door in Sandy Hook to see how things were going for local businesses.
In the two weeks since the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the grieving community had reeled from an additional challenge -- from the influx of dozens of news vans clogging the streets to the well-wishers who drove from halfway across the country to lay teddy bears or ribbons at the makeshift memorials.
She was worried by what she saw.
"The fact that the toy store was closed on Dec. 26 was really telling," Stocker said at a Thursday Board of Finance meeting.
"No toy store is ever closed on Dec. 26. That's as big a day as any." On the day after Christmas, a normal toy store would be busy with kids redeeming gift cards and bringing in returns or exchanges. But the Toy Tree was dark.
"Since the tragedy, Sandy Hook had way too much traffic in the beginning," Newtown Economic Development Coordinator Betsy Paynter told Patch in January. "All of the sudden, there was no traffic."
And those first three chaotic weeks -- from the day of the shooting to January 8 -- were critical times for businesses like the Toy Tree.
"All of the businesses really count on Christmas holiday for getting them through the year, and certainly the low months," said Stocker. "With such a tragedy impacting us, the community was not in any mood for the holidays -- it kind of snowballed on everything."
More than two months later, financial help is nearly here.
In two meetings this week, the commission will move toward distributing funds hoped to revitalize Sandy Hook's business community after the shooting.
On January 8, the state approved a $500,000 STEAP (Small Town Economic Assistance) grant to distribute among Sandy Hook businesses -- the maximum amount allowed by the state. Stocker said the request moved quickly through a process that normally takes much longer on the state level.
"It was obvious we needed really fast turnaround," she said.
By the Feb. 15 deadline, the Economic Development Commission received 33 applications -- 20 from businesses in the heart of Sandy Hook. Requests added up to about $436,000 in all.
The Sandy Hook business community has already suffered losses. In early January -- just days before the approval -- pub and restaurant Stone River Grille closed its doors. (Owner Richard Ceri, a Sandy Hook resident, still runs Panino's in Monroe and has been involved in sponsoring Sandy Hook-related charity events there.) , telling fans on its Facebook page, "We know you loved it and Wished we could have stayed."
The STEAP Grant committee will meet Monday night to discuss grant recommendations, according to Newtown's web site. On Thursday, the Economic Development Commission will meet to act on the committee's report. Stocker says some options are open for the remaining funds, including projects to beautify Sandy Hook center or aid even more businesses in the area.