Locals hope art exhibition helps community

NAUGATUCK – Michelle Bellemare isn’t a Union City native. But that doesn’t mean the Reynold’s Café owner isn’t doing everything she can to support efforts to revitalize the area.

The North Main Street café hosted an art exhibition Sunday to preview a larger exhibition scheduled for Sept. 11 at the Naugatuck Historical Society.

“It was literally thrown together in two or three weeks,” Bellemare said of the preview art show, which also included wine and cheese as well as live music. “I didn’t expect much. We’re trying to really get people to see how nice this area is. We’re trying to get some more people to rent down here—I’m the only one here. It’s a nice little block. It’s just like art—it needs to be dressed up a little and given some color and attitude, that’s all.”

The exhibition was organized by Bellemare and artist Lewis Dube, who is also putting together next weekend’s show at the historical society.

“When Lewis came walking in, he presented me with one of his paintings and it was pretty cool,” Bellemare said. “So I said I would display one or two of them around the restaurant, and we kept talking, and it evolved into its own little world. I’m excited to look around and see the art, people, and energy. That’s what it’s all about for me.”

“People love art,” Dube explained. “People are here because there’s wine and food and music and art. They come and see it’s fantastic and don’t want to leave. I’m an artist and love to have my work shown. There’s a void that needs to be filled in the community, so I’m trying to do that and I’m taking some other people with me.”

Dozens of people turned out to the café to enjoy the atmosphere, art by about a dozen artists, and live music, including the jazz group Marcel and Beyond the Sun.

“It’s been pretty much a packed house—young, old, and in between,” said Andy Kulmann, a regular patron of Reynold’s Café. “I think it’s absolutely terrific—it’s like blue-collar artwork. Who would think an art exhibit in Union City would attract people to little old Reynold’s Café?”

Many people were attracted, something that is encouraging to borough officials who want to see Union City make a comeback.

“I think it’s fantastic for Union City,” Naugatuck Mayor Bob Mezzo said. “It’s a fantastic display of our artistic community. It’s an opportunity for a great longtime business like Reynold’s Café to showcase its new space. The renovations in this facility are great.”

“There are a lot of people who have thought this part of town would never come back,” said Mike Ciacciarella, second deputy mayor and chairman of the Union City Revitalization Committee. “We need a good draw in this area, and we’re hoping something like this can be it. You need a good draw for a good revitalization so people will come out. Hopefully we can draw people from not only Naugatuck but surrounding towns. It’s been a little struggle with the economy, but we’ve made progress.”

Organizers of the art exhibition hope the success of Sunday’s event translates into a good turnout at the larger show on Sept. 11. That exhibit will showcase more art in addition to food and live music, including a performance by opera singer Marianna Vagnini.

“We asked her to perform for us and she’s so excited about it,” Dube said. “It’s like this stuff wants to happen. Everything’s going so well.”

“This is the kind of attraction that draws people,” Mezzo said. “People are looking for entertainment. Events like this can help spur other economic activity in the area. I think that the challenge is to translate a single event into ongoing activities. I think we take for granted the fabulous artistic contributions of our community.”

The area is one that is special to Bellemare, even though she’s not from the borough.

“My grandmother, Harriet Rosa, ran this restaurant for over 60 years, and it’s been in my family for over 100 years,” Bellemare said. “It survived the Flood of ‘55, so it’s really long-term family history. When [Rosa] passed away a few years ago, it was left to me to keep this place running.”

The place is running, and well at that.”

Bellemare hopes Reynold’s Café can be a cornerstone to the revitalization of the Union City subdivision.

“We’re trying to revitalize the entire area,” Bellemare said. “There has been a lot of help from the community. The area isn’t run down, but it hasn’t gotten a lot of love. We’re trying to make this place feel like it’s more than just a hole in the wall with a bunch of drunk people. It’s really like our own little Cheers.”