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Merchants fear downward spiral in business


SHARON - When driving through Sharon one would be hard pressed not to notice the abundance of natural beauty, the sprawling farmlands and picturesque views

But it's also hard not to notice that finding a place to eat in Sharon can be as hard as finding a bog turtle.

The Country Corner diner in the shopping center has shut down and has been for sale since last year. On West Main Street, Pappardelle has also closed. The Sharon Motor Lodge is for sale.

The cafeteria at Sharon Hospital has become a hot spot for locals seeking a warm bite to eat at noon. Some Sharon workers head home at lunchtime. Others head to Salisbury, where there are several restaurants and the steam table at LaBonne's market.

Some Sharon business owners are concerned that they will suffer, too, as fewer attractions bring shoppers and diners to town.

"As a merchant I am concerned for the life of the town," said Rick Hotaling, owner of Rick's Wine and Spirits in the shopping plaza. "None of us local business owners are strong enough on our own to attract people from other towns, so we need to work together to attract business. When a restaurant or a coffee shop is not there anymore you are missing an important piece of the pie."

Joe Heacox, manager of the Sharon Pharmacy in the shopping plaza, agreed.

But no one quite knows how to solve the problem.

"Everyone at Town Hall would love to see an eating spot open up and succeed in Sharon," said First Selectman Malcolm Brown. "It would be a very welcome development."

No one is rushing forward to fill the need, however.

There was also a brief shudder of concern when a rumor ran through town that Trotta's grocery store, the anchor of the plaza, might close early (at 6 p.m. on weekdays instead of at 7:30 p.m.).

Skip Trotta, the store's owner, said his decision to try out a new closing time is out of consideration for his employees who drive long distances in the winter weather. He just wanted to try and get them home a bit earlier.

Trotta rescinded the decision and chose to start closing at 7 p.m., at the behest of his customers who had come to count on his market being open past 6 p.m.

"We had a strong year economically in 2007, I thought I might try something new with the hours but it turned out we were bucking the tide," Trotta said. "The old hours are back by popular demand."

There have also been many rumors that the grocery store will be sold in the near future. The LaBonne's market chain has expressed an interest in the space, and there were rumors that Guido's was also considering moving into the plaza. Trotta has just renewed his five-year lease, however.

The amount of interest in and concern over the details of how Trotta runs his store are an indication of how nervous his neighboring merchants have become however.

"I don't know where we are headed," Hotaling said. "I'm not sure whether or not Sharon will be retail friendly. This could be a turning point for the the town."

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