The Design District Celebrates 15 Years!

Aug 17, 2020

Can you believe it? The Design District turns 15 years old today! Back on August 17th, 2005, several business owners initiated a movement to turn the New Park Avenue corridor of West Hartford into a home renovation destination. These independent businesses came together to create a place where homeowners could find products, services, and expertise from true professionals in the remodeling industry to make their home dreams come true. Now, 15 years later, as New Park Avenue becomes the next hot spot destination in the Greater Hartford area, those trailblazing businesses look back on their initial vision and celebrate how far the area has come. 

How did the idea for the Design District come about?

Cathy Davis, Bartlett Brainard Products: Brian Knies from Tile America started it. He worked with the town’s Economic Development team and the West Hartford Chamber because they realized the corridor of New Park Avenue had so many home improvement-related businesses.  They developed the idea of the original Home Design District and allowed us to be a “branch” under the West Hartford Chamber.  The Town and the Chamber worked side-by-side with us to help us grow as a group.  Brian was at the helm and worked very hard to grow the group and work with the Town.  Kevin Cunningham, the previous owner of Cunningham Supply, was also integral. Other founding member businesses included Tile America, Barrieau Oil, Dalene Flooring Carpet One, Bartlett Brainard Products, Holland Kitchens & Baths, Coastal Tool, and Cunningham Supply which is now known as The Ultimate Bath Store / Granite Group.  

Brian Knies, TIie America: From day one, our mission was to bring more consumers to the area and create more business for our members, which still rings very true today. We committed to making the greater New Park Avenue area a safe and desirable place to shop, using the collective power of our businesses to market, promote, and brand the area as a prime destination for consumers seeking quality goods and services to improve their homes and businesses. We’ve come so far towards achieving these goals and it’s exciting to see all the new businesses in different industries that are now flocking to the Design District.

What made you want to join the Association?

Rob Ludgin, Coastal Tool: We joined because we believed that having many independent businesses coming together to support each other would further spread the word about the area. As anticipated, the Design District has established a reputation that represents a core area for consumers to find everything they need to purchase, design, and build for their homes. Because we are all small businesses, there is a personal one-on-one approach that is missing from the larger big box stores. It’s a completely different and unique experience.

How do you think the Association has helped to transform the Design District?

Brian Knies, Tile America: Since we started the Association, we have been a major part of every decision-making process for the area. We worked with the Town and the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce (WHCC0 to better the area, develop the CTfastrac, host business after-hours events, publish brochures, digital ads, and television campaigns, support local events, contribute to charity initiatives, create signage and branding, and host events to bring more people into the District to support our business community.

What about the neighborhood has changed over the years?

Cathy Davis, Bartlett Brainard Products: The area has become more of a destination than it ever had been! The implementation of CTfastrac cleaned up the area and we’re starting to see different kinds of business pop up throughout the corridor. New grants from the state will also allow us to further beautify the area and create better traffic flow which Has been a concern for us for some time.

Chelsea O’Donnell, Design District Marketing Consultant: The Association has worked so hard to build awareness for the area and that investment is being realized with both residential and commercial business growth along New Park Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood. From gyms to breweries to foodie destinations, people are recognizing that the Design District has a unique appeal which is a direct result of the hardworking business owners who have called the area home for decades. 

What do you like best about being a part of the Design District?

Bob Barrieau, Barrieau Oil Company: The location is paramount and we love being part of such a tight-knit group of businesses. It’s fantastic to have so many different home-related companies in one area but we are seeing new people coming in as well. It really feels like we are building a hub of independent West Hartford businesses here in the District.

Cathy Davis, Bartlett Brainard: The local professionals are wonderful small business people that I trust and rely on to help my customers and myself with projects around the home. It’s a one-stop-shop for all your home improvement needs and as an independent business owner here, I love being able to collaborate with the other business owners on both projects for clients and the continuous improvement of the area.

What do you see for the future of the area?

Rob Ludgin, Coastal Tool: I see continued growth in retail stores that will blend with the established businesses in order to provide a unique shopping experience for the general public. 

Chelsea O’Donnell, Design District Marketing Consultant: We are excited about the residential developments at 616 New Park Avenue and 540 New Park Avenue which will bring a new community of people to live, work and play in the area. We are excited to be working with the town on both beautification projects and traffic solutions to make the corridor safer and more appealing to potential business owners. The Design District Association is 15 years old, but there is always work to be done. We love the ability we have to create our own destiny and we are proud to have such a committed group of people at the helm of this neighborhood transformation.