HARTFORD — A pedestrian on Pratt Street will, like many places in the city, find a divide between north and south.
The street, which is closed to vehicular traffic and paved in bricks rather than asphalt, looks different from most streets in Hartford's downtown and the city overall. The north side of the road is lined with storefronts open to the public. The south side is lined with storefronts, too. But they aren't yet open.
"We don't view it as a south versus north side, we totally don't look at it that way," said Michael Seidenfeld, chief operating officer at Shelbourne Company. "We look at it that if the entire street from Trumbull to Main on the south side and the north side is full, we are all winners."
Shelbourne Company owns the buildings on the south side of the road and plans to open several new businesses in the coming months as part of a larger effort to make Pratt Street the epicenter of the capital city. The vision began with bringing residential units to 99 Pratt, which is managed by Lexington Partners LLC.
"The idea is that traditionally, Hartford was empty on the weekends," Seidenfeld said. "And if we bulk up on a residential core, it becomes a city that has some vibrancy, even after the office closed."
The luxury apartments are designed in a way to maintain historical integrity, and about 80 percent are leased.
Pratt Street has a long history and has maintained much of the same streetscape as when it was built in the early 1900s. What hasn't remained is consistent tenants and the bustle of a downtown community.
Due to historical restrictions about development, it has taken longer for the south side of the street to be developed. Seidenfeld said he and the Shelbourne Company began brainstorming a vision for their side of the street in 2017. Shelbourne owns several other buildings in Hartford such as 100 Pearl and Metro Center, which Seidenfeld said is an asset to Pratt Street.
"We have access to all those tenants," Seidenfeld said. "So creating the synergy once all the stores are up and running, where we can then bridge that gap between the office workers and the residential retail on the street. And we could have special offers, we can help promote them when they have specials, new menu items or whatever it may be."
Kevin Kenny, vice president of Lexington LLC, said he believes Hartford lacks the foot traffic of many successful downtowns.
"People want to be surrounded by other other retail," Kenny said. "Businesses like the competition, they like the idea that someone can go get one drink at four different places on a night before the game. And that's what we're going to be able to provide here on Pratt Street and hopefully the rest of downtown Hartford."
The idea behind Pratt Street is that development and foot traffic will become contagious, spilling into other areas of downtown and making the city a destination for residents and beyond.
The businesses set to fill the vacant storefronts on Pratt Street this year are a wide range of small businesses and restaurants.
"Hartford residents have a lot of pride in their history," Seidenfeld said. "So we tried to be very mindful that, and one of the things that kept on coming back is certainly like we don't need and or want, a Starbucks or a national chain. So this is exactly what they want. They want a boutique, mom-and-pop kind of a feel."
Shelbourne received permits on several of the businesses last week while others are still pending.
Here are some of the businesses planned for Pratt Street, pending permit approvals. Many of them discovered Pratt Street through Kenny and his connections.
Refuge Tattoo shop found its way to the neighborhood after Kenny bumped into the owner, Jose Serrano, on Pratt Street. Serrano and his wife have a tattoo shop outside of the city.
The shop, which will also serve coffee, will fill a vacant storefront that used to be a Hookah bar.
"They wanted to just kind of get a feel for the street and see if there was anything open for them," Kenny said. "That was just a random by chance."
Refuge Tattoo considers its services "art therapy" and plans to be open Monday through Friday.
The Lyons Den specializes in cocktails and live music performances. Dan and Jess Lyons own a venture in East Boston and hope to bring a similar vibe to downtown Hartford.
"That's one of my really good friends," Kenny said. "He's owned and operated a bar out of East Boston for many years. And I had him out to Hartford because I really love his his live music bar and concept. And whenever I go there, I've always made it a habit to go. And so I wanted him to see Hartford and understand the vision. And he see he literally sees a lot of East Boston, five years ago in Hartford."
The venue will host karaoke nights, trivia and open mic nights.
Gentle Bull is a photography studio already located in Hartford on Arbor Street. The Pratt Street location will feature a vintage shopping experience.
The location will feature vintage clothing, home decor and plants, many of which will come from local vendors.
The Professional Barber has been a Hartford and Pratt Street staple since the 1920s. It's now operating out of a storefront on Trumbull Street during Pratt Street renovations.
Corner 3 will be a sports bar and restaurant conveniently located across the street from the XL Center.
The owner, Matthew Dacosta, is a good friend of Kenny's from high school. Dacosta is the manager at Matty D's Restaurant and Bar in Hartford.
"I reached out to him because I said, 'Matt, wouldn't it be cool to have a sports bar directly across the street from the XL Center?'" Kenny said. "Simple as that. He loved the idea. Ultimately, he was kind of the first guy that got the ball rolling."