Downtown developer extraordinaire Larry Gottesdiener has built his downtown food store. All he needs now is someone to run it.
By Daniel D'Ambrosio
May 22, 2008
If it's a rumor about what's coming down the pike to breathe new life into downtown, Oz Griebel of the Metro Hartford Alliance has already heard it. But when asked about his priorities for the city, he keeps it simple: first, we need a grocery store; second, we need a bookstore; and third, we need a movie theater. That, says Greibel, is what the people want — and in that order.
Well, the book store and movie theater are still mainly rumors, but the grocery store is already built. It's on Asylum Avenue across from the Goodwin Hotel. All it needs now is someone to stock its shelves, fill its meat and produce cases, and fire up its shiny pizza oven with matte black doors.
Hartford's biggest downtown landowner, Larry Gottesdiener of Northland Investment Corporation based in Newton, Mass., has poured about $2.5 million into the Whole Foods-esque space, with its Pottery Barn lighting, earthy brown tones and sculpted glass-and-chrome display cases.
Northland spokesman Chuck Coursey, who has his own public relations firm, gave the Advocate a 20-minute tour of the store-in-waiting last week, referring repeatedly to Gottesdiener's desire to "elevate the spirit" of downtown Hartford, which of course will also elevate the value of his many properties. Gottesdiener owns, among other things, the Harford 21 residential tower, which Coursey said is now about 70 percent occupied, and the upscale Goodwin Hotel.
"Larry made his first investment in downtown Hartford the same week the Whalers left town, in the spring of 1997," said Coursey. "So when others were fleeing Hartford, he came in and saw opportunity."
Coursey conceded that Gottesdiener is taking a "huge risk" building out the grocery store before he has someone to run it, but said "if you talk to people living and working down here, that's what they want, a place to go get some groceries, or a gallon of milk." Gottesdiener's grocery store will also offer ready-made dinners and a place to sit and eat where you can watch life pass by on Asylum Avenue.
In September 2006, when Hartford 21 had its grand opening, Bliss Market was on board with a 10-year lease to run an upscale grocery store similar to the one it's famous for in Wethersfield. But by the following summer, that deal had fallen apart over differing visions of just how upscale the store should be, and Gottesdiener decided to go it alone and build his grocery store anyway.
Coursey said he's through with trying to predict when somebody will move into the space Gottesdiener has waiting.
"We've been close with an operator a couple of times, but it didn't seem to be a good fit," he said. "I stopped telling people 'Well, we're getting close.' It's not good for my credibility. It's going to happen. It may happen in a month, it may happen in three months or it may happen in six months. But we're confident it's going to happen."