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Stereo Shop Owner Says Neighborhood Is Hurting Business

Ezra Silk

July 16, 2010

The Stereo Shop has been at 505 Farmington Ave. since Joseph Perfito moved the business into the stately three-story house in 1970.

Forty years later, his son, Nick, who now owns the store, portrays the electronics store as the last remaining high-end relic of better times in the West End.

Next to where Nick Perfito once routinely sold $60,000 home stereo systems to clients from as far away as Manhattan and Florida stands a redesigned KFC with darkened windows he likens to a "strip joint" and a bus stop that he says has turned the front steps of his nearby store into an overflow waiting area.

Perfito says he has been forced to alter his business. Now, he says, he makes house calls.

That's why, when Perfito finishes a thought, he invariably punctuates it with four telling words: "Are you kidding me?"

"I had a guy come here in a $250,000 Ferrari," Perfito said. "I told him to go get a cheap car. People were surrounding his car, saying, 'Wow, what a cool car,' and touching it. I said, 'Are you kidding me?' "

The Farmington Avenue Alliance, a local business association dedicated to revitalizing the West End business climate, planned the bus stop, which was erected last summer. Jill Barrett, a West End planner and community organizer involved with the alliance, says the bus stop is an attempt to decongest traffic by eliminating stops at the corners of Evergreen and Sisson avenues that made right-hand turns difficult. It also provides shelter from the elements, unlike the previous stops.

"Now, I go to people's houses every night, and they're like, 'Where? You're in downtown Afghanistan?" he said. "They think they're going to get shot. People are so terrified of Hartford it just blows my mind."

Perfito, a longtime West Ender, says people shouldn't be afraid to come to the area.

"They're good people [around here]," he said. "The problem is the people from West Hartford, from Simsbury — they're not me. They come down here, they think they're going to get robbed."

The alliance, working with city officials, moved other bus stops, set up planters and sketched out a plan to install median strips, new sidewalks and new trees on Farmington Avenue that has been repeatedly delayed by city efforts to construct a new water main on the street.

In 2009, the alliance was pivotal in redesigning the KFC, replacing the typical fast-food style architecture with a brick façade that more closely resembles the building housing Sgt. Pepperoni's next door. The effort earned the alliance an award from the Connecticut chapter of the American Planning Association, and the approval of local businessmen such as Joe Palenza, the owner of two buildings on the block, who says the new design has decreased panhandling.

"We need people like [the alliance] in the area, because we want to expand out," he said. "They're trying to make it a gateway to West Hartford. You have all walks of life in the West End — you have the good and the bad, but everyone's trying to make a living."

Business owners such as Palenza, Tony Ghamo, manager of J.T. Ghamo Tuxedoes, and Arrow Pharmacy technician Muni Roopnath say they are are more or less satisfied with the state of Farmington Avenue and the work of the alliance. But Perfito remains disturbed.

Palenza, Ghamo, and Roopnath also say they cater to customers of all economic strata. But none deal with wealthy clients as frequently as Perfito.

Alliance member Francisco Gomes, a local landscaper, says Perfito's priorities are out of whack.

"I think it would be more offensive to see people standing out by the edge of the curb in pouring rain with no bus shelter than having a shelter, which is a sign of humanity," Gomes said. "Those are the people that live in this neighborhood, and this city, so who are we building the neighborhood for, the people that live here, or the people that live in the Farmington Valley and want to spend thousands of dollars on a home entertainment system?"

Perfito doesn't see much of a future for the Stereo Shop, and the West End, for that matter, if businesses can't attract wealthy customers into Hartford.

"You go 2 miles up the road in West Hartford Center, its like a different country," he said. "We're left with three choices: Closing the store and retiring, moving the store to West Hartford and Avon where everyone else is going, or fencing off the property and closing off the front of the store."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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