By RENA EPSTEIN, Hartford Guardian Staff Writer
Parkville is a Portuguese sweet roll and coffee at Abrantes Bakery. It’s a steaming bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup at Pho Legal. It’s the savory smell of sizzling beef at the Brazil Grill Churrascaria. “Cultural diversity…this is a strength--makes it interesting and dynamic,” says Will Wilkins, Director of Real Art Ways, a nationally recognized arts venue located in Parkville.
While diversity does give Parkville a hip, urban feel, the cohesion and community spirit give it small-town charm. For instance, decorating Park Street for Christmas is a group effort, with seniors, youth group members, community activists and storeowners all involved. Gabriela Galarza-Block, local artist and business coordinator for the Parkville Business Association (PBA), says, “Parkville always was known as a caring neighborhood… You fall in love and want to be here.”
This tight-knit cohesion may be an accident of history. Margaret Merriman, Director of the Parkville Senior Center, recalls, “When they put in I-84…the highway cut us off from the rest of the city…we felt isolated but because of that, Parkville developed…into a self-contained neighborhood that started working together.” Wilkins says neighborhood leaders “make it a priority to behave well to each other.” This respectful, cooperative spirit, nurtured by the Senior Center, is Parkville’s trademark, and serves the neighborhood in more ways than one. Merriman acknowledges, “We’ve had a lot of good luck with the city. We’re not confrontational.” Recently, the city helped channel $250,000 of federal grant money to renew a loan fund supporting locally owned Parkville businesses.
For Parkville’s major players, the rewards seem more than financial. Gerry Maine, Principal Planner for the City of Hartford, explains, “People…have a high commitment to the neighborhood. Property owners own and run the stores… There are less absentee landlords.” Carlos Mouta, a local developer and the engine driving Parkville’s current upswing, says, “I grew up here… We want people to live here, work here, walk around here, and be entertained here…a neighborhood that everyone feels good about.”
In typical Parkville fashion, Mouta collaborates with tenants as he transforms former factory sites into inviting places of business, including restaurants, specialty food markets, art and dance studios, and the upscale home design center at 1429 Park Street. As always in Parkville, development is done with a respectful nod to the past, making sure new construction is compatible with the original, brick architecture. Mouta says, “Our buildings are old, with character. We’re attracting people who like this type of space.” Mouta’s tenants and neighbors appreciate his approach. Sergio DeSousa, owner of the new restaurant O’Porto, says, “He’ll work with…tenants, tries to help people around him… Parkville is growing like wildfire… He’s one of the reasons a lot of businesses are moving in.”
While Mouta has accelerated Parkville’s growth, the most essential ingredients have been there for years—a sense of neighborhood and intimacy, and people who care. Wilkins says, “That involvement, that creative energy… This isn’t something new… It’s about the outside world opening its eyes to what exists here.”