HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – For Vito Kala, owner of an Italian restaurant not far from a street leading to the grade school in Newtown where 20 children and six educators were shot dead last month, the murders were not only emotionally draining, but also financially.
Roads in the area were initially clogged with police cars and ambulances, then by TV satellite trucks and eventually a crush of visitors paying their respects at makeshift memorials. As a result, many customers could not get to The Villa restaurant or more than a dozen other area businesses.
“We were isolated,” Kala said. “It was the worst month for me.”
In addition to limited access to businesses because of crowds, the long mourning period in the community soured the appetite for holiday parties, shopping and decorating. Responding to pleas for help, the state stepped in on Tuesday, giving Newtown a $500,000 grant to help businesses recover.
“The community as a whole was not in a celebratory mood to do Christmas shopping,” said Elizabeth Stocker, Newtown’s director of economic and community development. “People shopping, friends going out to eat and doing what you can to prepare for the holidays all got thrown out the window.”
About a week after the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, business owners asked whether town officials could do anything to help them “get through the crisis,” Stocker said.
So town officials went to the state. It was decided that a grant from the state’s Small Town Economic Assistance Program would be the quickest way to deliver money to Newtown, said Catherine Smith, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
“This is a bit out of our normal realm, but it was very important for that part of the state, so we were happy to help out,” Smith said.
As many as 16 businesses are affected, said Newtown First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra.
They included restaurants, a delicatessen, a dress shop, a toy store, a karate studio, a coffee shop and other small businesses that were essentially shut for nearly two weeks, Llodra said. The town told state officials that not helping would devastate the small businesses.
“This would be a harm on top of a harm,” Llodra said.
Additionally, there are costs to workers who lost pay because their employers closed, Stocker said.
Some businesses, though, benefited from an increase in visitors and reporters, she said.
“When we visited the businesses in Sandy Hook, a couple said they would not need assistance because they did not have any drop off in activity,” she said. “Some businesses were OK.”
Officials have not yet drawn up a process to distribute the money, Llodra said.
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