Happy Hands is happy to be back

WILTON — It’s not outdoor dining, it’s outdoor painting.

On May 22, five tables with two chairs each, six feet apart, went up outside Happy Hands Pottery in the River Park Plaza on River Road in Wilton and three tables are now up at its 85 Mill Plain Road location in Fairfield.

Owner Alla Ionescu is hoping the outdoor option will encourage customers to return to the popular studios that had to close to walk-ins in March. During the shutdown, she offered virtual classes and virtual parties as well as pottery to go.

“It took a while to shut down,” she said. “It will take a minute to get started again.”

Setting up the outside offering wasn’t easy, she said. “It was a learning curve.” And, she added, “small tables are a hot commodity.”

But she got it together, with permits from both towns, pretty quickly.

When she was forced to shut down, Ionescu said she paid her eight employees for two weeks, then they had to go on unemployment.

“I have to make sure if they come back, I can pay for it,” she said.

Ionescu never had a set-up for outdoor painting. “If there’s a flaw in the process, we’ll have to figure it out,” she said.

It’s tricky with children, she said. Some kids do better with face coverings than others. “Some struggle so parent involvement is important,” she said.

There’s a limit of one hour per group at an outdoor table and no food or drinks are allowed. Up to five customers are allowed inside. Reservations are a good idea, she said, because if she’s at her maximum, walk-ins cannot be accommodated.

Summer camp

Summer, Ionescu said, is one of her busiest seasons, and although she won’t be able to accommodate as many children as usual, summer camp will be offered for two weeks, beginning June 29. She is even getting calls for remote camps.

In-person camps will be limited to 10 children, ages 4 and up, inside each studio. While camp is in session, no walk-ins will be allowed inside.

Each child will have their own work space, and children will have to sign up for the entire week.

Children will be screened for their temperature when they arrive and parents must confirm the child doesn’t have a temperature and isn’t sick. More information is available at hhpottery.com.

Grateful for support

Happy Hands Pottery has been in Wilton since April 2015, and signed a new lease just before the pandemic hit. She’s been in Fairfield almost two years and has been offering parties at the Shelton Sports Center for three years.

She is grateful for the support she’s been getting from the communities, her landlords, and the town.

“People have been buying gift cards, just to support us,” she said. “That was such a great gesture. It was amazing.”

Both landlords were very supportive as well. Kimco, her landlord in Wilton, offered free legal support in filing for Small Business Administration programs, she said. Her Fairfield landlord, she said, was very flexible.

“They didn’t contribute to our problems,” she said.

Both Chambers of Commerce were also helpful.

“They connected the dots. They were very actively involved. Being a member was the best money I ever spent,” she said.