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Businesses help Newtown residents return to normal

A person visits a makeshift memorial on December 18, 2012 in Newtown, Conn.

Where do people go to celebrate after the big game? Where do they go for late-night snacks, or a greasy cheeseburger? The same place they go to commiserate together.

In Newtown, Connecticut the all-night diner the Blue Colony is one of those places.

For the past 10 years, waitress Julie Burgess has brought diners their coffee, onion rings and steaks. Burgess knows these people who come in during her 5 - 11 shift. She seems them, she greets them, but now it's different.

"You ask 'hey, how are you? You know you shouldn't, but you just get a look. There's not an answer behind it… they just kind of look at you, like you know the answer, why are you asking," she describes.

The Blue Colony seems like a throwback: chrome, thick, dripping wedges of pie and cake gleaming, stools at a long counter.

Burgess says the place is known for its portions -- they're huge. But the only people with much appetite right now are the out-of-towners. She says everybody else is eating small.

"French fries, chicken fingers, quick things. Just to get in, see everybody, they were wandering around table to table, and go home. Milkshakes, comfort food. We had 1,000 people come in after the President left town. They were all just here to see each other. Not even to really eat. Just to see each other," she adds.

For some, work can serve as a wonderful distraction during a stressful time, a way to escape from the sadness. But for Burgess, that's impossible -- too many people need Colony right now. Like one table she had Monday night.

"Just tonight, it was an older couple, they didn't lose anybody, but they were very upset. They couldn't stop crying. And just seeing them cry, it just broke me and some of the girls were hugging me and some of the customers were hugging me. And all of a sudden everybody is hugging each other. That's how you know it's kind of like family," explains Burgess.

Lately, Burgess finds there's been a lot of hugging, shoulder rubs, and arm pats. People do whatever little things they can to comfort each other at the restaurant. Burgess says she likes it when there are these bright moments of laughter.

"When you hear somebody laugh it kind of makes somebody else laugh, and laughing is like a chain reaction."

But the laughter doesn't last. Burgess says the conversation keeps drifting back.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.
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This is a touching story. To me, the interaction that the waitress was having with her customers is true human nature at its best. Letting your guard down to support and uplift each other in the mist of a tragedy, that’s the start of the healing process. My prayers go out to the Newtown, Ct community

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