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Loan Fund Finds Interest For Grocery Store In Downtown Hartford


March 21, 2013

The first major foray into the grocery store business in downtown Hartford ended in failure, but two other potential operators may give it a try.

The Hartford Community Loan Fund said Wednesday it has secured a supermarket operator interested in running a 50,000-square-foot store.

The store could be part of a larger, mixed-use development that might be built on Main Street, just north of the central business district, an area the city is calling "Downtown North." The city has been studying how to best redevelop the area, long the site of the now-demolished H.B. Davis building, nicknamed the "Butt Ugly Building."

In addition, Thomas Deller, the city's director of development, said another group is evaluating the former Market at Hartford 21 space on Asylum Street. Deller declined to identify the group but said they were seeking financing.

Rex Fowler, the loan fund's executive director, declined to name the supermarket operator but said it does not have a store in the Greater Hartford area.

The loan fund began seeking out grocery store alternatives at the city's request after the Market at Hartford 21 closed at the end of 2011, after being open just six months, Fowler said

Fowler said the fund soon found that the Market at Hartford 21 targeted too small a slice of shoppers upscale and less price conscious to survive long-term. A study by the loan fund found that a supermarket in the city's center needed to draw from a larger area, including other neighborhoods in Hartford.

An initial market study showed a larger store could draw more than 20,000 shoppers on a regular basis in a city whose food shopping alternatives are limited.

Any opening would still be at least several years away, Fowler said. The unnamed supermarket operator does not want to own the building, so a developer would have to be found. Some financing would likely be available through federal programs that seek to ensure the availability of healthy food in urban areas, he said.

The supermarket also would have to fit with the city's larger vision for the area, Fowler said.

"We are hoping this will fit into a larger plan for Downtown North," Fowler said.

Deller said Wednesday the city is still conducting its study of the Downtown North area. But the city is considering the feasibility of such a supermarket, Deller said.

The supermarket plan has been discussed by the loan fund and its partner, Hartford Food System, at neighborhood revitalization zone meetings in the city, including the South Downtown zone on Wednesday night. Hartford Food System also aims to ensure the availability of food in urban areas.

There has been much attention on downtown Hartford in recent weeks. The city has proposed one tract of land at Main and Pleasant streets as the site for relocating the University of Connecticut's West Hartford campus to the city's downtown area.

The Market at Hartford 21 opened to much fanfare in early 2011, but closed after just six months. Owners Kelleanne and Ryan Jones had hoped to bring a successful market to the city, but the store's mix of mostly upscale, customized sandwiches, deli items and entrees, along with produce and dry goods, did not mesh well with the downtown market and proved too costly to maintain.

While the number of downtown dwellers is still relatively modest, there are nearly 1,000 apartment units that may become available in the next several years.

Meanwhile, one smaller market downtown has already expanded after opening in 2010. The partners in Al's Market & Deli on Asylum Street opened a second location on Trumbull Street last year.

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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