Shelton couple doubles up on downtown businesses

SHELTON — As a clinical nurse in the heart of New York City, Celia Jimenez-Lugo spent two years feeling helpless as the pandemic ravaged the lives of those she had sworn to treat.

That is why when Jimenez-Lugo had the chance to bring joy back into her life through her two favorite things — crystals and bubble tea — she jumped in full force.

“I don’t think you will have success in life unless you do what you love,” said Jimenez-Lugo, known as CeCe, “and this is what I like, and I hope other people learn to love it. It’s about what makes me happy, and I hope that translates to the community.”

Cece and her husband, Frank Lugo, moved from New York City to Shelton in 2019. The two have joined the revitalization of the city’s downtown, opening Cece Bubble Tea and Polaris Crystals — located side by side in what had been vacant space at 434 Howe Ave., across from Bridge Street Commons II.

“This has been a blessing,” said Lugo, who oversees Cece’s Bubble Tea shop, which features all varieties of the popular drink along with a full café style menu with breakfast sandwiches, paninis and wraps for lunch, plus dessert options.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Lugo said. “We just opened two weeks ago, and I still can’t believe it. It seems like yesterday I was driving two hours one way to Long Island for work. Now we’re here (and) it’s a blessing.”

Crystals became a comfort for Cece — and she decided to bring that joy to others. It started as an online business which soon grew into Polaris Crystals.

Cece said crystals are more than beautiful to look at, and many people feel a spiritual connection with them.

As a one-stop online shop, she said Polaris Crystals is the source for some of the finest crystals, gems, and stones. From Fluorite to Selenite, she said the shop has a wide selection of jewelry and accessories.

“We take pride in only supplying the highest quality of crystals, ensuring that they’ll have a lasting impact in your lives,” she added.

A graduate of culinary school before turning to the medical profession, Cece has been a clinical nurse for 15 years. She has worked primarily at New York Presbyterian — where she remains employed — but during the pandemic added a second nursing gig at Mount Sinai.

She said that while the sight of patients suffering from COVID-19 were horrific, especially as many of them ultimately died, she remained working 12-hour shifts multiple days a week. Sometimes she didn’t even return to the couple’s New York apartment between shifts.

“It was horrible,” she recalled about caring for patients during the height of the pandemic. “We’d lose two, three every day. You couldn’t even count, it was just horrible.”

Cece said she lived in a “state of hypnosis” as she put in double shifts consecutive days with the goal of saving enough money to make her entrepreneurial dreams a reality.

“I made money that helped to get to this point,” she said. “I’m grateful for that opportunity, but it took a toll emotionally and physically.”

But now the couple have turned the page. Lugo retired from his pharmaceutical job in Long Island — where he worked for some 30 years — to focus on the bubble tea operation.

Cece now just works one nursing job, still at New York Presbyterian three days a week, leaving her remaining time focused on the businesses she hopes will bring as much joy to the community as they have, in such a brief time, to their own lives.

“I’m so proud, and they fit perfectly here in Shelton,” Lugo said about his wife’s businesses.

Downtown Shelton reminds him of his boyhood neighborhood of Washington Heights, N.Y.

“I grew up in Manhattan, there I would see a village (with) all the shops, restaurants,” he said. “This is what I see happening in Shelton. I see it coming. All the apartments, the other coffee shops, restaurants. I see it coming. It will become a small village like New York. People strolling in the summer, kids walking, being safe. I see it.”

And now the pair are part of the downtown’s continued growth.

“This is a place of relief and happiness, a place where you come and drink something that tastes good, look at beautiful things,” Cece said. “We want to bring a little joy to people’s lives, especially now with the pandemic, we all need that.

“Bringing families together is an awesome feeling,” she added. “People have been so isolated, especially children. This is a place to come together and have fun, relax. That is so important. I wanted to bring that here to Shelton.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com