New development bringing changes to Derby 

Sunday, September 10, 2000

DERBY - Changes taking place in the city may represent a growing economy and increased development, but some worry that new businesses coming to Derby also could signal an end to the small-town atmosphere many residents want to maintain.

"It needs perking, but if they perked it up too much, it would take away what [the city] really is," said Tara Muhammad of Bridgeport, who works in Derby and likes its "relaxing," family-oriented atmosphere.

Still, she said, new businesses in the area are "a good idea. I think that's what they need here."

Two projects will be completed within the next several weeks; several others are scheduled for completion within the next two years. 

A new McDonald's restaurant opened on Route 34 last week. On Oct. 11, a new Wal-Mart is scheduled to open on Route 34, at the site of the former Caldor Department store. The old Farrell's factory at Main and Water streets recently was demolished, and construction of a Home Depot has begun on the site.

Additionally, BJs Wholesale Club is set to be built at the former Valley drive-in on Division Street, and a Shop Rite Supermarket will be constructed on Pershing Drive at the former Bradlee's site.

Derby Mayor Marc Garofalo said the incoming wave of business is "excellent" for the city because it shows that national companies are interested in the Valley and they believe Derby "is an exciting and viable place to conduct their business," he said. "It's a very solid sign that Derby, along with the whole Valley, is on the move."

Other city officials agree that the new businesses will provide Derby with a needed boost.

Building inspector Dave Kopjanski said the changes would stimulate the city's economy. "Hopefully, it's going to increase our grand list,"or the list of all taxable property in town, he said.

That will benefit residential taxpayers, according to Rick Dunne, director of Development and Administration. "It certainly means less pressure on residential taxpayers to carry the load of the operation of municipal government," he said. In total, Dunne said, all the incoming businesses will bring in an estimated $1 million in tax revenue for the city, and at least 750 new jobs. The city's budget this year was $23 million.

The projected increase in tax revenues from the businesses also will enable the city to "invest in itself" through the school system and recreation, he said, adding, "Those are the deals that are going to underwrite" future expenditures.

Like Muhammad, many residents say growth would be healthy for Derby, but they want to maintain a less bustling, less city-like atmosphere.

Lifelong resident Charles Baldino is concerned that "all of our history's leaving."

He considers Farrell's, a factory where he and many city residents worked their first jobs, a piece of that history. When Baldino was growing up, working at the factory was a rite of passage for Derby's youth. "Everyone and their brother worked there," he said. "Watching that go down was watching our history folding."

While change is beneficial, too much too fast is detrimental, he said. "It's happening too fast for life-long residents. I think our town's a little too small for things like this."

Ansonia resident Covey Bohn, who works in Derby, welcomes the shopping convenience that chain stores could bring, but believe they may eliminate the local competition. "It's going to be good for the economy but not for the mom-and-pop shops," he said.

Tony Staffieri, part-owner of Connie's Family Restaurant on Elizabeth Street, said that businesses like his are more connected to the community and offer personal touches that chain stores usually do not provide.

Regardless, new, large businesses are coming to Derby lured in part, by the city's proximity to major thoroughfares such as Routes 8 and 34, as well as Division Street, according to William Purcell, president of the Chamber of Commerce. Such proximity makes the city more attractive to larger, wealth-producing companies, he said. 

"Naturally, we are concerned about the impact on smaller retails," Purcell said. "But it challenges them to reposition themselves around quality customer service, convenience and selection, to remain competitive in this new environment."

Mary Lanphear, who as a young girl patronized local branches of JC Penney and the A&P grocery store before they closed years ago, said she looks forward to the city's new additions.

"For once [the city's] going to start looking alive," she said.