March 22, 2007
By JONATHAN O'CONNELL, Hartford Business Journal Writer
The South Hartford neighborhoods along New Britain Avenue already lost one grocery store recently, and now they might be in danger of losing another.
In the fall, the low-cost grocer Megafoods shuttered the doors on its New Britain Avenue location, just south of Trinity College.
While that building stands vacant and shuttered, a grocer down the street might also be having trouble keeping the doors open. C-Town Supermarket, at 394 New Britain Ave., is more than $80,000 behind in its payroll taxes, according to a lien placed on the property by the Internal Revenue Service.
Founded in 1999 to serve the local Hispanic community, the C-Town store is independently owned by Jovanny Batista under the C-Town brand. But it failed to pay more than $11,000 for each of the four quarters in 2004, and for the first two quarters of 2005, according to the IRS. Its total unpaid balance was $80,0140.62.
Though Batista was in Florida last week, employees at the store acknowledged that everything was not going smoothly.
“It’s slow right now,” said Eddie Sapan, a C-Town employee. He said the store was undergoing remodeling, which caused fewer people to stop by. Some shelves in the back of the store were filled with building materials, rather than food.
“Everything is a mess,” he said.
In January, Batista filed a standing complaint with the Hartford Police Department about loitering on the front stoop. The store is directly across the street from the playing fields at Thomas J. Hyland Memorial Park, and is a hangout for local youth.
The Megafoods chain, which also targets Hispanic customers, filed for bankruptcy in 1994. Many of its stores in other parts of the country have been purchased by other chains.
The difficulties of the grocers troubled community groups and other local merchants.
Though it is peppered with restaurants, bars and package stores, the stretch of New Britain Avenue between Washington Street and White Street, more than a mile, would have no large grocery store if C-Town were to close.
Marilyn Rossetti, director of Hartford Areas Rally Together, said that when she grew up in the neighborhood there were always grocery stores to choose from, including an A&P in the spot Megafoods vacated, but that other stores in that spot have had some financial difficulties.
As a result, Rossetti said, people in Hartford’s neighborhoods have more expensive, less healthy food offerings than people in most other parts of the state.
“In our city, there are people who have access to food and there are people who don’t,” she said.
“What small stores can you go into and there’s a selection of fruits or vegetables or meat? There isn’t because [as an owner] you can’t do it.”
John Zito owns a monument company, yoga studio and juice bar on New Britain Avenue, and is planning to start a rock-climbing gym and a farmer’s market there as well. He is also technically the head of the New Britain Avenue Merchants Association, though he acknowledged the group had slid into inoperation.
“Certainly it’s not a good thing to have a business of any kind be vacant. It kind of invites blight, vandalism and other non-ideal activities to occur,” Zito said.
He said the January 2005 opening of Wal-Mart just over a mile away, on Flatbush Avenue, might have attracted even people who need to take the bus to get there and back.
“With the other retail over there [on Flatbush] I think that might be an attractive thing,” Zito said.