Stamford Advocate 7/20/20: From 2017 through 2019, no new businesses opened on the stretch of Broad Street between Washington Boulevard and Summer Street.
That idle spell ended at the beginning of this year with the opening of a Row House workout center at 5 Broad. Two more establishments have quickly followed.
The July 2 debut of Honey Joe’s Family Coffeehouse in the other section of 5 Broad and the opening a few weeks earlier of a Citizens Bank branch at 59 Broad reflect the turnaround of a downtown block plagued for years with vacant storefronts. Amid the coronavirus crisis, those newcomers are still confident that they can help extend the bustling activity that pervades elsewhere in the city center.
“Everyone likes coffee in the morning, and people need a convenient gym. It’s all really good for the neighborhood,” Honey Joe’s owner Susan Krissel said in an interview at the coffee shop. “We opened here because we felt like one thing that was missing was having a good community hub in the downtown where you could bring the kids.”
Krissel and her husband, Steve Jones, planned to open a coffee shop long before the start of the pandemic.
Their affinity for coffee goes back to their days drinking La Colombe at the University of Pennsylvania, where they met and respectively studied nursing and mechanical engineering.
They have developed an extensive knowledge of the downtown through their seven years living in the city. They live with their 4-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son in the Hubbard Heights neighborhood, a few minutes drive from 5 Broad.
After scouting locations, they settled on a site across the street from the UConn academic building in Stamford and within walking distance of the downtown’s apartment complexes.
Covering about 4,600 square feet, Honey Joe’s filled the remainder of the space that had stood vacant since Wayne Steakhouse closed at 5 Broad in early 2017. The restaurant lasted only a few months after its August 2016 opening.
The property had struggled to hang on to other establishments too. A Brazilian steakhouse, Rodizio Grill, closed in 2014 after a short stint. The same space housed a Houlihan’s restaurant, which shuttered in 2009 after six months in business.
But Krissel and Jones were not intimidated by filling the expansive footprint. It suited their vision of a multi-purpose space for Honey Joe’s, whose logo includes the likeness of the family’s beloved teddy bear, Honey Joe.
In the cafe, Honey Joe’s repurposed elements of the steakhouse. It kept the soaring front windows and the bar. The latter is the serving station for a menu that features La Colombe coffee, including its signature draft latte on tap.
The bar is closed for now to comply with the state’s current-stage social-distancing guidelines, but 15 seats are set up throughout the rest of the cafe.
Through a back door, the cafe connects to the ground level of the neighboring Target store’s parking garage — accessibility that Krissel and Jones thought would appeal to families with young children.
“It feels spacious enough that people feel comfortable sitting and having their cup of coffee,” Krissel said. “We wanted to create an environment that feels clean and spacious so people feel safe.”
The play area next to the cafe covers 1,360 square feet — with two custom Cedarworks play sets, reading nooks for children and seating for about 30 adults. For the time being, it is being rented out to one group at a time with disinfecting between visits.
“With the play area, I feel like we offer something unique,” Krissel said. “It’s a different concept.”
Also adjoining the cafe is a private meeting room, The Den @ Honey Joe's. It accommodates gatherings such as classes, workshops and meetings and also offers auxiliary seating for the cafe.
While the downtown hosts a few other coffee places — including Winfield Street Coffee at 96 Broad St., next to the Ferguson Library, and Lorca Coffee at 125 Bedford St. — Honey Joe’s is already building a following.
“I'm a fan of the cafes that have become prevalent in the area,” Stamford resident Chris Saxe said during a visit last week. “It helps promote more sociability in the downtown area.”
More Spaces to Fill
A couple of doors down from Honey Joe’s and next to Target, Citizens Bank’s opened a 3,700-square-foot branch at 59 Broad on May 15.
It replaced a branch that Citizens previously ran a couple of blocks away at 1 Atlantic St. Citizens also occupies about 25,000 square feet of offices a few blocks south at 600 Washington Blvd.
Before the branch’s opening, 59 Broad languished without occupants for several years. It previously housed a gym, Italian restaurant, and post office.
Broad Street has long been popular with financial-services firms, with Citibank and TD Ameritrade also operating branches on the thoroughfare between Summer Street and Washington Boulevard.
“Based on changing customer behaviors and our real estate strategy, we aim to provide our customers with the best banking resources possible,” Citizens said in a statement. “We felt it was important to provide customers access to a conveniently located bank branch in downtown Stamford.”
But the block’s revival is not yet complete.
Next to Honey Joe’s, a long-empty storefront remains. Next to Row House, the ground floor of the Trump Parc condominium building at 1 Broad has stood vacant for several years.
A listing on the Stamford Downtown Special Services District’s website describes the spot at 1 Broad as a “prime restaurant corner location with high visibility.”
Neighboring business owners are heartened by the changes. Shahin Farzam, owner of Salon Shahin at 66 Broad, said he liked the idea of his clients waiting and having drinks across the street at Honey Joe’s before appointments since COVID-19 regulations do not allow the salon to serve coffee.
“The more the merrier,” Farzam said. “Hopefully, these businesses that have come in will stay for a long time. We all want these businesses to survive. They definitely enhance the area.”