Albany Avenue, a main thoroughfare in Hartford’s North End, is a significant commercial district with a large volume of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and a rich African American and West Indian heritage. The Avenue has been in need of infrastructure improvements for decades, and the area has suffered from high rates of blight and crime. Given that the Avenue is a gateway from the western suburbs into downtown Hartford, there is significant potential to build upon the economic activity of the more than 100 small businesses that already exist.
That’s where Upper Albany Main Street (UAMS) comes in. UAMS is a nonprofit that works to preserve, revitalize and support the commercial district on Albany Avenue with programs like the Micro Business Incubator (MBI). MBI connects students from the University of Hartford’s Barney School of Business to micro-businesses in Upper Albany to cultivate capacity in areas such as business planning, marketing and technology.
Most recently, UAMS has played a critical role engaging business owners and other stakeholders in the implementation of the Route 44 Safety Improvement Project. Through UAMS’ engagement in the larger Route 44 project, the organization was awarded a grant by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to improve the external features/façades of up to 37 properties on Albany and Homestead Avenues to address blight and create a more uniform, cohesive look to the neighborhood.
In support of this work, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has awarded UAMS a three-year $287,000 grant that will allow UAMS to bring on additional staff to oversee the administrative aspects of the project.
These funds will also help UAMS expand their Micro Business Incubator program to provide technical assistance and capacity support to business owners as they manage the temporary disruption created by these infrastructure projects, and to help them to take economic advantage of the physical improvement of their locations. “I have had the privilege to work with the Micro Business Incubator Program for the past three years, says Kiriakos Christoforakis, owner of Mr. Pizza of Hartford. “Throughout that time, students have brought several new ideas to my business, which I would never had considered in the past. This past semester, a student assisted me with the implementation of a point-of-sale system, which has allowed my business to operate more professionally and efficiently. I am thankful for all that the Micro Business Incubator Program has done for my business.”
”Upper Albany Main Street, in partnership with many stakeholders, including government and businesses, is engaged in critical work that has the potential to shape the neighborhood for decades to come,” says Erika Frank, community investments officer at the Hartford Foundation. “We are happy to play a role in ensuring that UAMS has the staff capacity to manage projects of this size and scope with its partners.”
Work has already begun and business owners are feeling the positive impact. According to Vivian Akuoko, owner of Evay Cosmetics, “Since the start of the Upper Albany Main Street Commercial Façade Improvement Program and Route 44 Safety Improvement Program, I have seen a great increase in our customer base. Hope has been restored by community members and business professionals and I am proud to call Albany Avenue my home. We are excited about what the future holds for our community as a whole.”
Herman Todd, Chair of the UAMS Board of Directors echoes that thought, “It is our hope that this collaboration will create a ’complete street‘ that will improve the quality of life for all those who live, work, and visit this historic and diverse community.”
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding communities. Made possible by the gifts of generous individuals, families and organizations, the Foundation has awarded grants of more than $720 million since its founding in 1925. For more information about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, visit www.hfpg.org or call 860-548-1888.