by Sam Juliano
A dry cold underlined the winter sun on bucolic Church Hill Road in the picturesque Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Connecticut on a community-sponsored Saturday event aimed at business revitalization. Adorned with green and white ribbons and defiant window placards that declare “We Are Sandy Hook. We Choose Love,” the I (Heart) Sandy Hook weekend project, held just a block and a half down the road from Dickinson Drive and Sandy Hook Elementary School was a way for the town to spur on economic renewal for businesses that were frozen during the media surge of last month, when news crews clogged roads, and residents in response stayed home. Then there was the inevitable silence when everyone and everything cleared out, leaving stores to operate during a down time when many locals opted to stay home and negotiate their own emotional recovery the the unspeakable tragedy of mid-December. Said one merchant: “People weren’t coming in that live around the area for haircuts and shopping because either they couldn’t get here, or because they couldn’t be in the town…they were hurt.” Another asserted that the mass who converged on Newtown were understandably uninterested in shopping, and arrived to leave flowers or teddy bears at the memorial. As a result the Christmas rush, which usually gets store owners through a good part of the year, was non-existent because of the tragedy. Promoting positive energy and a sense of normalcy in a town whose history has been re-written, was the noble intent of community officials who want to build on the recovery effort.
Local and out-of-area residents attending the ‘Cash Mob’ were asked to spend at least $20.00 in one or more of the establishments, which included The Toy Tree, Wishing Well, Fun Cuts, Sandy Hook Diner, Figs, and Church Hill Restaurant. At The Toy Tree, green and white bracelets and “We are Sandy Hook” tea-shirts were sold to generate donations for the “We Are Newtown” Scholarship. The brisk business at that store made it nearly impossible to move around once you were inside. My own four kids who attended with my wife and I left with quite a few items, some hard to find anywhere. The lunch crowd at The Sandy Hook Diner kept the establishment filled to every last seat, and necessitated a short trip up to the road to the landmark 'destination' Blue Colony Diner at the juncture where Church Hill Road meets Route 84. The food was fine enough (I see on-line reviews seem to be split) the service was very good, and the vestibule featured a moving window tribute to the tragedy with letters and e mail copies from people who have long patronized the eatery during their trips going through the area. After lunch we traveled further north on the road for a stop at a premier comic store named Cave Comics which is located in a nifty old train depot shack. Needless to say the kids left there with more goodies and a firm request that we plan a return visit at some point. We then drove back into Sandy Hook, making a right after the stores and traveled about seven miles up a beautiful wooded road that led us to the ‘new’ Sandy Hook Elementary School in neighboring Monroe, which was previously known as the Chalk Hill Middle School. A reminder of the terrible events of last month at the original school, was the presence of a Monroe police cruiser at a gate in front of the attractive set back building. Greeting the morning busses from Newtown is a friendly green banner on a building across the road that reads ‘Welcome Sandy Hook Elementary.’
While the ‘Cash Mob’ project’s intentions were spurred on by positive energy and practical concerns there were some inevitable comments posed at the Monroe and Newtown Patch, that asserted that the town merchants were looking to exploit the tragedy for monetary gain and publicity, and that a number Sandy Hook residents were poised to boycott. Several readers persuasively countered with the fact that it was the community and not the proprietors who came up with the idea to stage the event, and that virtually all the businesses were making sizable contributions to the tragedy. Seems like some people will complain about just about everything, much like the relentless conspiracy theorists who polluted the waters with some outlandish allegations. There was a spirit and a resilience in the air at Newtown on Saturday. The lovely New England town is on the rebound. They are hurting deeply, but are hardly down for the count.