Another Try At A Grocery Store In Downtown Hartford?

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The first major foray into the grocery store business in downtown Hartford ended in failure, but it appears other potential operators are willing to at least consider trying again.

The Market at Hartford 21 closed more than year ago after being open just six months. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/kgosselin@courant.com

The Market at Hartford 21 closed more than year ago after being open just six months. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/kgosselin@courant.com

Thomas Deller, the city’s director of development, told me two groups are evaluating sites in the central business district — one of them in the former Market at Hartford 21 space on Asylum Street.

Deller declined to identify the groups, but said the one looking at the Hartford 21 site is trying to secure financing.

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 the downtown market and proved too costly to maintain.

Deller said the second group is looking at other “undetermined” sites in the downtown area and is still in a very preliminary stage.

It’s unclear whether either proposal will come to fruition.

The partners in Al's Market & Deli on Asylum Street have expanded to a second location on Trumbull Street. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/kgosselin@courant.com

The partners in Al’s Market & Deli on Asylum Street have expanded to a second location on Trumbull Street. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/kgosselin@courant.com

Any future grocer will have to evaluate the customer mix, split between office workers and downtown dwellers. The number of downtown residents is still modest. But nearly 1,000 apartment units may become available in the next several years.

In addition, operators will have to consider price and the mix of items that are offered.

Meanwhile, the partners in Al’s Market & Deli on Asylum Street, opened in 2010, have expanded to a second location on Trumbull Street.

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19 thoughts on “Another Try At A Grocery Store In Downtown Hartford?

  1. DR

    No point in operating a decent market until there are significantly more residents downtown.

    Market 21 failed because of a bad location. Any sort of upscale market will have no future in Hartford. If they put it in the Farmington Valley or West Hartford, I’m sure it would have bee a hit – akin to the Meat House or Fresh Market in Avon.

    Downtown can’t sustain anything more than Al’s Market and Deli at this point. He knows who his customers are and caters towards them.

  2. Pamela

    I really liked having The Market @ 21, and I don’t think the location was horrible, but the prices for regular food was excessively high. I think that any successful store needs to have a mix of specialty items and inexpensive basics. Also, I think that any market will be better off starting with a more narrow focus and expanding from there, rather than trying to do everything like Market @ 21 did.

    1. mc

      Agreed. They were insane to think that an expensive market would work downtown and they were insane to think that they could start off so big. Start small and grow if necessary.

  3. Patrick

    I used to go there after the gym to pick up dinner maybe once every week or two as a treat but it was way overpriced for anyone who wanted to buy any kind of regular groceries. The location wasn’t so much a problem, I think, as it’s a very small location and their product selection was too gourmet and limited for the combo of the (currently small) resident population and downtown workers.

  4. JDP01001

    I think the problem with The Market was that it was too focused on expensive, prepared food. I think a store, more like a Trader Joe’s, with a focus on affordable fresh AND prepared foods would do MUCH better down town!

    1. mc

      I think that they should have a street facing window for the commuters at lunch. The store itself should be mostly non-perishables.

  5. Billp

    Trader Joes? Fresh prepared foods? Trader joes is a glorified frozen food section at walmart. Anyone that lives in hartford leaves to do their shopping, theres not enough other retail in downtown to support it.

    1. mc

      I lived 2 blocks from a Trader Joes in Manhattan. I think I went twice. A) it is super crowded with slow winding lines and B) it really isn’t that great. Frozen foods mostly.

    1. Patrick

      The problem is the size of the store is only a little bigger than a typical Starbucks. You can’t really fit that much into it when it comes to groceries. The profit margin on a grocery store is small to begin with, which makes it that much harder. The milk/dairy aisle alone in my Stop & Shop is like 3 times the size of the market. I hope someone finds a way to make something work in it, grocery or not.

      1. DR

        Whole Foods moves to places with a well-established population of higher income patrons. Hartford would never been able to support such a store.

    2. mc

      Seriously? Whole Foods won’t even move to Stamford let alone Hartford. Hartford is years away from being able to sustain a Whole Foods. I shop at Whole Foods in Tribeca NYC. Tribeca is barely able to sustain it. There are no lines.

  6. Beverly Scavetta

    Since we are discussing a small grocery store for Hartford, could we also discuss another drug store. Hartford only has CVS which is packaged during the week. I would love to see a Walgreen’s move in and give CVS some competition. I won’t even attempt to go to CVS during lunch hour – the line is out the door.

  7. Thank God for a Voice of Reason

    You have a 35 story luxury apartment building that is mostly rented/full above the market. Yet all the residents preferred to drive to Glastonbury so they could drive and not have to carry groceries half a block. So weird to a genuine city person.

    1. Phil

      I have a friend who lives in that building and the issue wasn’t that people didn’t want to carry groceries, it was that they couldn’t buy groceries, period. It’s selection of basic items was about the same a gas station, but at twice the price. Why walk to buy $1.25 for a single roll of toilet paper when, while you’re at Stop & Shop doing your bigger shopping, you can buy 12 pack for $5.50. There’s no way anyone could have done basic grocery shopping there due to the limited selection and high prices. It was basically a takeaway lunch or dinner type of business.

        1. Phil

          I bought it on sale a few weeks back for that much. Not sure if it was Stop & Shop or Shop Rite though. This week it’s on sale for $6.77 at Shop Rite.

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