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Westport business owners react to $15 minimum wage

May 29, 2019

WESTPORT — A bill that will raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour was signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday morning, meaning employers will soon have to shoulder additional costs to pay their workers.

Under the new law the current minimum wage of $10.10 an hour will increase to $11 in October, $12 on Sept. 1, 2020, $13 on Aug. 1, 2021, $14 on July 1, 2022, and finally $15 on June 1, 2023.

Local businesses and organizations weighed in on the wage increase and how it could impact area stores in the future.

Randy Herbertson, president of the Westport Downtown Merchant Association, said while the decision was good for the welfare of Westport residents, both chain and local businesses will be impacted.

Nevertheless, Herbertson said the gradual increase is a positive, as it allows business owners time to plan for the change, adding there are other ways owners can keep their shops competitive.

“In this age of Amazon, people and live interactive experiences are two factors that will allow physical retail to continue to have a vital niche in the commerce environment,” he said. “Both are considered investments for our most proactive merchants.”

Coffee An’ Donut Shop owner Elias Vlandis said the decision would naturally affect a lot of businesses.

“I think a lot of mom-and-pop stores will definitely be affected,” he said. “It’s not only minimum wage that goes up. It affects everything else.”

Vlandis’ store has been in Westport for 27 years. Since opening his business, he’s seen many mom-and-pop stores close over the years, and said the recent decision could further push this trend.

“A lot of mom-and-pop stores have gone under, but it depends on the economy,” Vlandis said. “I think most people are going to have raise prices or cut workers.”

Westport Pizzeria owner Mel Mioli said his opinion on the wake hike depended on the type of job.

“If it’s a career job, then sure it should be $15,” he said. “But if it’s a part-time job with after-school hours then I think $15 is a lot.”

Throughout the 50 years the pizzeria has been open, Mioli has seen a decline in mom-and-pop stores and more chain stores in town. Despite the minimum wage increase, he said Westport was still a hospitable place for local businesses.

“This is still a great place to live and work in,” Mioli said.

Breno Donatti, owner of Winfield Street Coffee, said he believed raising the minimum wage is just and fair, and has to be done.

“With that, small business tax breaks and incentives should be added as well,” he said. “Every small business owner I know wants to pay their staff more.”

At Winfield, employees are already paid higher than the current minimum wage. Everyone starts at $12 an hour, but the average for workers is currently around $13 and with tips can reach $17 an hour, Donatti said.

Donatti is set to open a Winfield shop in Stamford in August, Miami in September and Rye, N.Y., in spring 2020. He said he believes the success of his business stems from paying his staff being paid more than other places.

“Bottom line is that it is very hard to live in our area with the current minimum wage, and every hardworking person deserves a livable wage,” he said. “My goal is to raise our staff pay well ahead of the state mandated law. We will get there by the end of next year.”

Includes reporting by ctnewsjunkie.com; dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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