An upscale grocery store is poised to open this spring in the Hartford 21 apartment tower, ending years of disappointments with an amenity seen as crucial to attracting more people to downtown.
Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra will announce this morning that Simsbury restaurateurs Ryan and Kelleanne Jones are working out final details to open The Market at Hartford 21 on Asylum Street in the early spring.
The 8,500-square-foot store, with 60 employees, would be open seven days a week and would specialize in prepared foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner in addition to grocery items. "You'll be able to get Captain Crunch," Kelleanne Jones said.
"It's going to be quite an epicure," said Segarra, who will announce the deal, including $300,000 in funding from the city, at this morning's Rising Star breakfast at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.
As Segarra reiterated Monday, the lack of a downtown grocery store has been a major impediment to boosting the long-sought vibrancy that comes from a healthy downtown residential population. That was driven home to Segarra in his second week in office last year, during a conversation with a man who moved out of downtown because there wasn't a grocer.
"He said, 'It was costing me an arm and a leg eating out every night,' " Segarra said.
Small grocers have opened downtown, the most recent just across Asylum Street from where the new market will be. But the space in the Hartford 21 tower was seen as the Holy Grail of grocer space, large enough to meet all shopping needs and located in a signature apartment building.
A big chunk of the cost for opening the store has already by shouldered by the tower's owner, Northland Investment Corp. In 2007, Northland sank $2 million into outfitting the store for a grocer, in hopes of landing a tenant.
The city would begin to recoup its money after three years. For the last seven years of the 10-year lease, the city would reap 2.25 percent of the store's gross profits, up to the initial $300,000.
The Joneses established a name for themselves a decade ago in the Hartford area, with their Pintore Catering business. After a brief stint in the Las Vegas restaurant scene, they returned to Connecticut in 2009 and opened The Mill at 2T in the Tariffville section of Simsbury.
The European-style, upscale bistro is intimate, with just seven tables. But the restaurant — located in a renovated mill building — has won glowing reviews from The New York Times and other publications.
With the restaurant's success, Kelleanne Jones said she and her husband had thought for a couple of years about opening a high-end grocer.
"We took many, many trips to Dean & DeLuca," Kelleanne Jones said Monday. "That is our inspiration. Now that we've opened a very successful restaurant, we're ready for another chapter, another new project."
The Joneses hope to tap into three markets: people who live in Hartford, people who work in the city and shoppers who will want to visit from outside the city. The store will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends.
The store will offer everything from fresh-cut flowers and produce to baked goods and a wide array of prepared foods. It will appeal to foodies, but also have the staples, Jones said — milk, bread and cleaning supplies.
There were high hopes for the grocery store space when Hartford 21 opened in 2006. A deal was quickly signed with Bliss Market, but those plans collapsed as construction costs escalated, and the space has remained vacant.
"We are thrilled to be working with a first-class local operator for the Market at Hartford 21," said Peter M. Standish, senior vice president at Northland. "The team of Kelleanne and Ryan Jones share Northland's strong commitment to the city and vision for a true urban market downtown. They have great passion for this project and a proven track record of success."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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