June 6, 2013
Matthews Group at Raveis Holding Block Party to Launch New Washington Office (Litchfield County Times)
By Jack Coraggio

Annual celebrations that are designed to showcase the best offerings of Washington Depot and its businesses isn't particularly novel.

Consider that Christmastime brings a great presence to the town center and its independent shops when the area plays host to the annual Holiday in the Depot festival. And last weekend, the Washington Business Association sponsored its third annual Villages of Washington Community Day.

Local realtors Pels and Stacey Matthews, the married proprietors of The Matthews Group at William Raveis, are confidant there is room here for yet another celebration of Washington Depot. It's a gathering next weekend that they've crafted and call the Washington Depot Block Party, and it's meant to signify both a quick reintroduction to the local shops and a chance to greet the long-awaited summer.

Furthermore, the block party will serve as a kind of grand opening for The Matthews Group's new office. In what was an incredibly short move, the business recently relocated a couple hundred yards from Bryan Memorial Plaza to the Green Hill Plaza building, the one that is otherwise known for having Marty's Cafe as its cornerstone.

"Well, we wanted to be around all these vibrant shops," said Mr. Matthews, explaining a factor that is no small part of the impetus for the short trip across the road.

The uptick in foot traffic is noticeable. It's true that The Matthews Group's new locale is so close to its old spot that a paper airplane that caught a nice gust of wind might carry from one site to the other.

It's only on the opposite side of the street from Bryan Memorial Plaza, home to the town hall, a branch of Litchfield Bancorp and Washington Food Market, but visitors tend to zero in on those locations, going in and back to a vehicle without detours, while those same visitors walk around a bit more in Green Hill Plaza, home to restaurants and clothing shops.

Even Mrs. Matthews, who, like her husband, has a rather recognizable name in the local real estate market, spoke highly about the "difference location can make." That sentiment made Mr. Matthews smile, as it unintentionally proved the truth of the old maxim concerning the three most important things in real estate (location, location and location).

"So this will be part of our opening event," Mr. Matthews said of the block party, "but we wanted to do something that's not just about us."

The Matthews Group, along with the National Iron Bank and Boulevard Bank, are the head underwriters of the multifaceted engagement. Altogether, 17 local businesses will participate--either inside or outdoors--in the event running from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Roxbury author Ann Smith will sign copies of her new book on a local legendary architect, "Ehrick K. Rossiter: Designs for Modern Living 1880-1930." It's for sale in the nearby Hickory Stick Bookshop, and features several magnificent homes in the region, and is a work that Ms. Smith had been developing for about 20 years.

Washington resident Stephen Piscuskas, founder and co-owner of York Street Studio in Woodbury, will have his first showing of paintings and sculpture inside The Matthews Group's offices.

There will be prizes raffled off by The Matthews Group for people who visit a certain number of shops. A mock passport will be given to patrons, and any of those who spend in six different participating shops will have their name entered into the raffle of local gift certificates and such.

Then there are the three dining establishments in the plaza--Marty's Cafe, The Pantry, and Norimaki--which will stay open for special dinners. Michael Ackerman of The Pantry said his eatery will have a prix fixe menu of three choices, with reservations beginning at 7 p.m.

"This is a little different for us, staying open in the evening," said Mr. Ackerman. "But we're happy to celebrate ... and bring in people we don't normally see."

The Shepaug Friends of Music, a local nonprofit group that raises money for music education in regional schools both public and private, will also be present to provide some nice sounds. And the group, of which Mr. Matthews sits on the board, will collect donations.

Mr. Matthews said he hopes to see about 200 people come out for the party, and Mrs. Matthews added, "We'd like to see it every year."

It would be a pleasant injection for the Washington Depot shops. Kristin Neugebauer manages the clothing boutique J. McLaughlin, and said she will have incentives and run her own raffle inside that evening. Meanwhile, she lamented there isn't more initiatives to bring in the foot traffic.

"I think as a small little town trying to let people know we are here, sometimes we need to cast the net a little wider," said Ms. Neugebauer. "Things like this help."

The Washington Depot Block Party will be held from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 15, at the Green Hill Plaza. There will be outdoor vendors and lots of shops open, as well as outdoor dining at any of the three eateries. For dinner, reservations are strongly suggested.

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