Three years ago, downtown Hartford appeared to be on the verge of getting a grocery store at Hartford 21.
Today, the space is still dark.
But while all eyes have been on Hartford 21, another plan for a grocer has been quietly percolating at a spot that's a two-minute walk closer to Bushnell Park, with the target of opening in the summer of 2010.
Common Ground, a nonprofit group, has renovated the historic building at 410 Asylum St. for mixed-income housing in a $22 million project. The store - in street-level space once occupied by a branch of the old Connecticut Bank & Trust, with the old vault still in the basement - would serve a range of income groups, not just upscale shoppers.
Construction to repair walls and prepare the shell of the 5,000-square-foot storefront is beginning. Common Ground says there are several serious candidates to operate the store, but declined to name them.
"Everyone knows that building," said Rosanne Haggerty, Common Ground's founder and a West Hartford native. "We envision a green grocer that sells flowers, has prepared foods, fresh fruit, tables, Wi-Fi."
A grocery store has been viewed as crucial as downtown Hartford seeks to make the next step in its fitful quest to restore vibrancy.
The challenge for Common Ground, which is dedicated to creating housing and ending homelessness, will be achieving its vision for a grocery store that appeals to a broad income spectrum and still attracts the city's upscale corporate workers and residents.
Katy Frankel, development director for the project, said that the store will focus on more basic food needs, rather than upscale "boutique" groceries, to attract a wide range of shoppers.
"Those who live in our building represent a variety of demographics, as do those who reside in other downtown apartments and condos," Frankel said. "Additionally, those working downtown who might stop by for groceries on their way home represent a broad range of economic situations."
"But," she added, "everyone needs milk, bread, coffee and 'something for supper.' "
Haggerty said that the location still needs to grow as a pedestrian thoroughfare, but that it is highly visible and close to both the park and the train station.
Asylum Street also is a major thoroughfare to the west.
Common Ground said it already has achieved success in the building, leasing 65 percent, or 46 of the 70 apartments, since September.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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