North End Hartford community members gathered on Main Street to celebrate an annual holiday tradition, but this year’s message behind the festivities takes on a whole new meaning.
Reggie Hales, president of Hartford Enterprise Zone Business Association, along with members of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. came together to announce the community annual holiday lights.
“This year almost didn’t take place because all the businesses are hurt because their sales are down because of COVID-19 and the health crisis,” Hales said.
The lights have been going up for over 30 years but this year have been at placed at integral points to attract visitors into the area to support local businesses. The locations of the decorative displays are at Main and Windsor streets, Windsor Line on North Main Street and Barber Street and Tower Avenue.
“We have these lights up today to help and remind our citizenry that we’re here we need your help,” Hales said. He explained that the support of the community is what keeps the businesses alive saying, “We need your business we need your patronage. Often people are rushing through that don’t live in Hartford the North End and now we want them to stop. Stop and patronize show us that you care.”
AJ Johnson from Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity was one of those who came together to lend support to this community effort.
“We’re fighting two pandemics the pandemic of racism and the pandemic of COVID-19 and both of those things are at play in this neighborhood,” said Johnson. “We have a goal and a mission of community our mission is culture for service (and) service for humanity and so it’s within the DNA of our organizations.”
Small business owners Kyle Anderson and Yvone Alexander are hoping that the display will attract more people to the neighborhood. Anderson has owned several small businesses in the pass while Alexander currently owns a grocery store, food plaza and sports bars. Both share the struggle of owning local establishments during this time.
“For the most part we’ve been shut down since March,” Alexander said, speaking of his sports bar, “Even though we’re closed down the bills are still coming. I still have to pay my insurance and electric bill. It’s not just the malls it’s not just downtown it’s the neighborhood businesses that employs neighborhood people that also need help. They need patrons they need support.”
“As a business owner how can I maintain my staff if my staff is going to get more money from the federal government to take care their basic necessities?" Anderson asked.
The common thread that runs through each message the business owners share is that they have hope for a better tomorrow.
“There is a bigger and brighter day we will get through this we will maintain and having hope having faith and being grateful that you are still here," Anderson said.