NORWALK, Conn. – The two Norwalk businesses couldn’t be more different – one featured crumbled sheetrock and patches of ice on the floor, the other barrels of blue agave, maple syrup and vanilla. What they have in common is a visit Friday from Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.
The first stop for Wyman’s entourage — which included state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and Mayor Harry Rilling — in the effort to draw attention to state support of Norwalk development was Ola! Foods, a granola factory tucked into a warehouse-like building, set back from Woodward Avenue on the waterfront. There, Dina Housing showed off a spacious commercial kitchen equipped with a shining new oven and a cement mixer-like barrel rotating to mix gluten free granola.
Wyman and company then headed to the Wall Street area to visit the dilapidated, poorly lit and freezing Globe Theater, where renovations have recently begun. There, Mark Schulman of Design Development bragged about having just discovered a basement and Frank Farricker of the Wall Street Theater Company talked in vague terms about plans for the “largest fly in New England.”
Both businesses are benefiting from state money. Ola! Foods received a $100,000 matching grant through the Small Business Express Program, which, together with $383,661 of its own funds, allowed it to expand into and modify adjoining space in the Woodward Avenue building. The theater company received a $1.5 million grant toward the total estimated project cost of $7.8 million, which is expected to help revitalize Wall Street.
Wyman learned about the granola business, which Housing said began from a recipe she made for her children.
“It’s not a complicated product,” Housing said. “It’s all about good whole ingredients. It’s mixed, baked, it was something that I made at home and we just scaled it up. It’s as simple as that.”
Housing did all the work herself in a commercial kitchen she shared with another business when she began. She and her husband, Kurt, now employ six people and plan to hire four more. She said the product has a “delicate flavor” and has gone national with sample-size packages in Marshall’s, Home Goods and TJ Maxx. The idea of that is to introduce people to the product, and have them hopefully ask their supermarkets to begin stocking it.
You can find it in Whole Foods and Stew Leonard’s, although not the one in Norwalk.
Over on Wall Street, Farricker said the theater will be a “cornerstone and real cultural treasure” for the area.
This month marks the 100th anniversary of the construction of the theater. It never became a multiplex or commercial space, so it still has all the hallmarks of a theater, although in a badly deteriorated state.
“We’re really starting on second base when it comes to renovating the theater. We don’t have to re-imagine, we don’t have to undo the mistakes of the past,” Farricker said.
Farricker talked about finding new and innovative ways to use the fly, which was designed to do things like lower a backdrop to the stage.
“We want as much as we can from the old days,” he said.
Schulman said the theater has a beautiful facade.
“The building has great bones. It’s a solid structure. The volume of the space is terrific,” he said.
The men say the theater will be open next year. They just began working on it.
“One of the interesting things about coming into a very old building that has had numerous renovations and hasn’t been occupied for a very long time is trying to figure out exactly what it is that we have to work with,” Schulman said. “We’re discovering things in the walls and spaces. We found a basement the other day. … The other challenge is maximizing the space so that we can accommodate a variety of uses for the community, from rock concerts to school theater productions to mic night on a Thursday night.”
“This is really exciting,” Wyman said. “This is what we are all talking about, the governor talks about all the time, is bringing our cities back to life. Getting the revitalization in. Having the old with the new so that we can remember what was going on before and making new (memories) … it really is to me one of the highlights.”