The Market at Hartford 21 Grocery Store Closes Temporarily As Owners Rework Plan
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN
September 19, 2011
The Market at Hartford 21 — the upscale downtown Hartford grocer that opened six months ago — is closing temporarily to rework its business plan, which could mean reconfiguring the store, changing what it sells and buying its merchandise differently.
Monday, a lawyer for the owners, Ryan and Kelleanne Jones, said the process should take "weeks, not months." The lawyer, Rich Rochlin, said he could not be more specific about the timeframe.
Last week, the Joneses said they intended to stay open with shorter hours while plotting a new course for the market. But Rochlin said working on the business plan could not be accomplished quickly while juggling the demands of operating the store, which did not open Monday.
The closing is a troubling development for downtown where a grocery store is viewed as a key amenity for attracting more people to live in and around Hartford's central business district. Despite the setback, the Joneses say they are committed the project for the long term.
One key issue that the Joneses will wrestle with is the layout of the store. The store was outfitted with refrigerated cases, ovens and display shelves at a cost of $2 million by landlord Northland Investment Corp., long before the Joneses agreed to operate the store. Having the store outfitted was supposed to help an operator get started, but it appears to have hurt those efforts.
The layout requires customers to be served by workers for virtually all the prepared foods, pushing up payrolls costs and making for longer waits.
"They may have to restructure the model on how food and product is offered to the public that results in a more efficient labor model," Rochlin said. "The sense is that there is a way to make this work better."
Some cases may have to be removed in favor of adopting displays more similar to Whole Foods that emphasizes self-service.
Rochlin said the store has had some months when it has produced "a good amount of revenue" but has run into "some growing pains." Changes also may need to be made in what the store offers and how the Joneses buy merchandise from vendors.
In its short history, the market has developed a reputation for good food, but turnover on some produce has been slow. Its challenge is to not only attract downtown dwellers and workers, but also suburban residents, especially on the weekends.
The city has invested an initial $300,000 in the project for the start-up costs, a portion of which must be paid back over the term of the lease. In addition, the city subsequently sank another $100,000 into the market.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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