Businesses create community in Newtown

The bar at My Place, a local favorite in Newtown, Conn.

Signs on the side of the road as you enter Newtown, Conn.

Most days, businesses are places to go buy stuff -- elemental transactions. I give you money, you give me stuff.

In the wake of a tragedy, a business often is much more than that. People in Newtown, Conn., understand just how vital some stores are to them right now.

Richard Warek felt like he had to get out of the house. He and his wife live just a few miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School And -- like most of his neighbors -- Warek has watched more news than is probably good for him the past few days.

But even going outside, he can’t get away.

“There are three houses with state police cars in front of them. Meaning that we lost three children in our neighborhood,” he says.

So Warek and his wife drove to My Place, one of those restaurants with familiar faces.

“We’re here to, for therapeutic reasons. To…escape a little bit, go out to eat, have some other people around us. And hopefully feel a little bit better, because it’s been very difficult,” says Warek.

The restaurant looks a lot like the bar in Cheers, a neighborhood place. And late in the evening, it was still full with locals eating pizza, drinking beer and trying to recapture a little of what has been lost in the past few days.

All over, people are seeking each other out in shops, in libraries, in the Newtown Hardware Store.

A lot of times just talking about a horrific event such as this just makes people feel better in general. Just makes them feel a little sense of relief that that they can come and speak with somebody,” says owner Daniel Sorrentino.

In the weeks and months to come, Sorrentino’s family will make donations and gifts to the town. But for now, one small thing he can do is be there for the people who walk in. Because his customers need more than hammers, nails and paint.

“You can see it, everybody who walks through that door, you can see it on their faces.  You can just read it the body language.  Everybody is really upset,” he says.

Overnight, businesses in town have become places to grieve and cope -- together.

Mary Kay Novak owns Your Healthy Pet, a pet food and supply store. Her counters are filled with dog biscuits that look like Christmas cookies; she knows these people and their cats and dogs. They are like family. It’s been hard.

“We break down every time we talk to people. You can take so much and then it hits home and makes us physically sick and ill. It gets really hard to talk about after a while,” she says.

Lots of businessowners in town say they feel a profound desire to do something. A number of companies have pledged money; others plan to make donations.

Peter D’Amico offers basketballs, tennis, weights and a place to run around. He manages the NYA Sports and Fitness Center in town. Today, the place is crowded with kids from Sandy Hook Elementary School and their families. D’Amico says he feels lucky to see the kids run, sweat and laugh.

“That’s the best thing we can do for the community, those kids. Focus on something else. And to see their smiles on their face, it’s wonderful,” says D’Amico.

Like most people in town, D’Amico doesn’t have answers, just a need to be involved, trying to help.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

Signs on the side of the road as you enter Newtown, Conn.

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