Older sites give small firms a chance for a downtown business address
By SEAN O'LEARY, Hartford Business Journal Staff Writer
July 23, 2007
The Hartford skyline is a paean to big business. Big skyscrapers, big companies, big names. And yet, tucked almost dead center in the biggest business district in Central Connecticut, is a building that’s all about small.
Situated between bars and restaurants, shaded by office towers more than twice its size, an eight-story building at 57 Pratt Street pumps the blood that fuels the heart of a city.
The offices here aren’t spacious. They’re the one- and two-room headquarters for the little startups, the solo entrepreneurs and the visionaries. This is the place for those who don’t dream of doing business from home, but want to be where the business action is: downtown.
While there are no bold headlines to accompany the departure of a business at the location, it is arguably the place where the viability of Hartford is decided. Because this is where small businesses come to be born.
Walking down narrow Pratt Street, it’s easy to pass the address without a second glance. Its ground floor houses Vaughn’s restaurant, which focuses most people’s attention on the first floor, instead of the seven above. But inside resides a roster of businesses that range from lawyers, to event planners, to freelance writers, to a tailor. They are on Pratt Street because they want to be close to the action, they want to be in the middle of it and they want to be downtown.
“It’s an indicator I think on how Hartford is doing,” said Jonathan Cohen, who is the landlord of the building, along with his father Samuel and brother Daniel. The building gets most of its tenants by word of mouth, he said. When the phone doesn’t ring with prospective tenants, it means entrepreneurship is low. “When people are calling, there’s a bigger buzz about Hartford.”
Right now, Cohen said that buzz is evident, in part thanks to the Hartford 21 project nearby, and the phone is ringing regularly with prospective business looking to make the move to Pratt Street.
Pratt Street sits as a shabby-chic connector between Trumbull and Main streets. Once rundown, it was given a brick walk makeover in the late 1980s. It has since seen a number of storefronts again become vacant. And yet, the street seems once more poised for revival. Northland Investments owns most of the property along the avenue’s north side, and is attracting upscale tenants such as Day Pitney, Connecticut’s largest law firm. The Cohens own most of the buildings in the center of the south side of Pratt. Their tenants are not so upscale. But if Northland’s represent the establishment, the Cohens’ are the upstarts and the scrappers. Here, they can get a one-room office for $200 a month, all inclusive. Grow big enough, and the landlords will unlock the interior doors between offices to create a multi-room suite.
Gus Fas has run his tailor shop from the second floor of 57 Pratt Street for a quarter-century now, having moved in during 1982.
“We need some nice established business to come in, not only restaurants,” said Fas. “What we need is some business services. That’s why I’m here.”
A few floors above, Nicole Glander is the owner of Glander Associates Event Management Services, and the decision to open an office downtown four years ago was a no-brainer.
“I wanted to be in the heart of downtown Hartford,” said Glander. “It was conveniently located, it had a modest rent and it was right around all the revitalization.”
“Definitely the location on Pratt Street is a very good,” she said. “For my business to be located near the welcome center and the convention center, that’s good for me.”
With a business predicated on events and their success, Glander is keenly aware of the business climate in the city. She thinks the capital is on an upswing.
Many businesses that come to 57 Pratt Street, according to Cohen, are similar to Glander Associates. They do not need much space, they do not have many employees and are looking to grow.
“Most of our tenants are small businesses and if they leave, they’re leaving to go to a bigger building,” said Cohen.
But some want to stay in the city. “I love it down here,” said attorney Steven Tomeo, who specializes in drunk driving cases. “I’ve been here for three years and I’ve really noticed more people coming in [to downtown]. I think it’s a good sign.”
Tomeo said the downtown location works well for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a decent meal.
“The area is clean and it’s easy to get food, or to find a sit-down restaurant, there are a lot of choices,” he said. “It’s sometimes tight for parking on the street, but there is a parking lot that fronts Asylum, Main and Pratt that is generally open, so that hasn’t been a problem.”
Cohen said that parking can be an issue for some buildings downtown but with eight parking lots within several blocks, it usually isn’t a problem for his building.
“It’s a good building,” said Fas. “It’s a good place downtown.”
Cohen said he and his family work so hard to maintain the building because “we’re a small business ourselves.”