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Downtown Market To Have Own Flavor

Upscale Store's March Opening Could Add Vibrancy To Area

Kenneth R. Gosselin

February 21, 2011

Ryan and Kelleanne Jones couldn't be clearer about their new grocery store in downtown Hartford.

It's not Stop & Shop. It's not Whole Foods. It's not Al's Market across the street.

It's The Market at Hartford 21.

"We might not have 35 brands of pasta sauce, but we're going to have three," Ryan Jones said. "We will have everything you need to live downtown."

The opening of the upscale grocery store, tentatively set for March 16, has been anticipated ever since the Hartford 21 tower opened five years ago. It's considered a key amenity to build a strong residential population downtown, crucial for long-sought vibrancy.

With the anticipation also come raised expectations among people living and working in the neighborhood about what the store will offer and at what price.

Clearly, downtown residents are enthusiastic about the opening, coming just two months after the announcement by the mayor. It will save them from driving out of the city to shop for food and other basics.

Still, with retail struggling downtown, the success of the store is hardly assured. Residents say they will keep a close eye on the prices of the groceries and prepared foods the store will sell.

Greg Gorneault said he wouldn't mind paying a little extra for groceries because of the convenience. The store, in a street-level space on the Asylum Street side of Hartford 21, is less than a five-minute walk from his Main Street apartment.

"But when it comes to the prepared foods, there are so many other eateries," said Gorneault, 27, an academic advisor at the University of Connecticut in West Hartford who has lived downtown for two years. "Some of them are really expensive. They are going to have to be careful how they price."

Mitch Jackson, a financial analyst at UnitedHealthcare who both lives and works downtown, said he pays more in rent to live in downtown Hartford, so he has to watch his food budget closely.

"You pay more than if you live in East Hartford or Manchester," Jackson, 25, said. "You have to be mindful of expenses. Every dollar you save is a long battle."

The Joneses have said their inspiration was the iconic gourmet store Dean & DeLuca. They say they've also looked at Eataly, also a specialty market, but not as pricey.

Lunches are likely to run between $5 and $15. Groceries will have a range of prices. Three kinds of pasta sauce, for instance, will have a cross-section of prices.

"Some people like their Ragu," Ryan Jones, 35, said.

A Heated Stone

The layout of the store was predetermined by landlord Northland Investment Corp., which sank $2 million into outfitting the space after one operator, Bliss Market, backed out of the plans three years ago.

That allowed the Joneses to move quickly, using the $300,000 in city money for start-up costs, a portion of which would be paid back over the term of the 10-year lease.

The store will offer some "grab-and-go" prepared foods. The layout, with display cases around much of the perimeter of the 8,500-square-foot space, will emphasize ordering and service by store employees.

They'll offer a full range of baked goods, meats, fish, noodles, fresh pasta, salads, sushi, soups, produce, flowers and greeting cards. Pizza will be sold at one station, kept warm on a heated stone. Kiosks will dispense cereals, nuts and dried fruit as well as whole bean coffee.

Low, wire shelves in the center of the store will hold dry goods, including toilet paper, detergents, salad dressings, rice, cereal, bottled juice, canned goods, peanut butter and jellies leaving a clear view of the entire space.

For downtown residents with pets, there will be dog and cat food.

The space looks urban with exposed pipes, an abundance of stainless steel and shades of brown everywhere, from the metalic bronze shelving to the tan epoxy resin flooring and off-white wall tiles.

The store will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends, which was welcomed by residents such as Gorneault.

"There was a real fear it was going to be closed on weekends," Gorneault said.

A Destination

This is the Joneses first upscale grocery store venture. The couple has built a reputation among Hartford area foodies, first as caterers and currently as owners of The Mill at 2T in the Tariffville section of Simsbury. The restaurant has drawn glowing reviews from The New York Times and other publications.

Recognizing that the downtown residential base is still in the formative stage, the couple hopes to develop a following in the suburbs where shoppers are used to parking in open lots. To compete, they will offer customers curbside delivery for those who drive up and will pay for the first half-hour of parking in the Hartford 21 garage.

They also hope that events, such as cooking demonstrations, book-signings and a farmers market, will not only get The Market at Hartford 21 known but make it a destination for people who live outside downtown Hartford.

"One of our goals is to get people back down here on the weekends," Kelleanne Jones, 37, said.

The couple isn't bothered by the smaller Al's Market, a neighborhood grocer that opened across Asylum Street last summer. The two stores will serve different needs, but work well together, the Joneses said.

For instance, Al's sells lottery tickets and cigarettes, and the Market at Hartford 21 won't, they said.

High above the store, on the 29th floor of Hartford 21, Maria Savastio and her husband, Matthew Boehm, have enjoyed living in the city since selling their home in West Hartford in late 2009.

But food shopping has been a constant challenge, given they are the parents of 3-year-old Isabella.

"We have struggled with not having a grocery store because we have a little one," Savastio said. "The milk spoils before you expect. It becomes a big planning issue."

She adds: "There's no instant gratification. It's the end of the day. There's no place to grab and go. You have to jump in the car or go out to eat, and you can only do that so much."

While the couple has managed juggling Isabella and bags of groceries at the apartment, the thought of a delivery service for downtown residents planned by the Joneses quickly got Maria Savastio's attention.

"Really?" Savastio said, when told of the service. "Now that's something we would definitely consider using."

She wasn't bothered by the delivery fee, which could range from $10 to $20.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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