Downtown Hartford boosters have long said that the effort to bring new residents to the city's center desperately needed a grocery store. Now, that store is set to open. WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports.
Developer Larry Gottesdiener once said that his goal for 2008 was to open a market in the retail space around the corner from XL Center, at the core of Hartford’s downtown.
By his own measure, the head of Northland Investment Corporation is at least three years too late – but today the new grocery store called the Market At Hartford 21 is going to open. Last week, we took a tour with new Mayor Pedro Segarra.
COHEN: What does walking into a new market in this part of Hartford mean to you?
As he walks in, Segarra sees a lot of emptiness – cases waiting to be filled with coffee, cereal, pastries, prepared food. And with a few days left before the market opens, Segarra says that empty is a good thing.
“I want to see coffee beans that are fresh, I don’t want coffee beans that are there sitting in the air until Wednesday. I want to see pastry. If I see pastry here today that would be a bad sign.”
Husband and wife partners Ryan and Kelleanne Jones are the owners of the Mill at 2T restaurant in Tariffville. Now they own this brand-new grocery store.
“You know, everything from – we’re doing a whole porchetta we’ll have in the case. So you’ll have a 25, 30 pound pig that we’ll roll and roast. You can get a slice of that, to just a miso-glazed chicken, to a nut-crusted salmon. Kind of a good variety of everything.”
Although the market was built out years ago in the hopes of finding a suitable tenant and an operator, that deal only came through five weeks ago.
“We’ve been in and out of this project for three and a half years, and the variables just didn’t fit.”
COHEN: What fit this time?
RYAN JONES: The city definitely helping out and getting involved made it fit. Northland realizing that, listen, this is never going to work if rental rates downtown were what they were three or four years ago. The bad economy helped.”
KELLEANNE JONES: It’s unheard of to open something like this in five weeks. Why so fast? You missed the part when the mayor said sometimes he’s impatient and he likes things done quickly. Ryan and I are the same way.”
At the same time Segarra was taking his tour, dozens of new market employees were at a worker training. Nearly 500 people applied for full and part-time jobs, only 89 got them. Here are two:
DUDLEY: James Dudley. I’m 54.
COHEN: And where are you from?
DUDLEY: Hartford. I’m going to be stocking and possibly some deliveries.
COHEN: Did you leave another job to come here or were you unemployed?
DUDLEY: Unemployed for quite some time. Anytime you can be a part of something new and sit back and watch it grow, I think it’s huge and I’m one of the fortunate ones.
DUDLEY: I mean, you’ve got a lot of insurance companies down here, but most of the people don’t live here. And so for those that live here, work here, and spend their money here, it’s a good thing for the local economy.
MYERS: My name is Stacey Myers, I’m 45, I live in Hartford, was born and raised in Hartford. I am going to be working with cheeses, specialty cheeses that’s going to be coming into the market. Just tying to do something I like and also I don’t have to drive my car, I can get in a bus and I can come to work and I like that. It’s like freedom.
And asked what the new market meant for her, Myers used the same word as did Mayor Segarra:
MYERS: Opportunity. Opportunity for the city, a change coming through. Yeah.
COHEN: Is that important? As a resident?
MYERS: Very important.
MYERS: It will bring a positive back into communities and let everybody know that everybody’s important and this is what we’re doing as the people in the community as a whole, together.
COHEN: As Hartford?
MYERS: As Hartford, yes. Hartford.
So, Hartford, for those who for years have been wondering when downtown would finally have a market where people could buy groceries, the answer is...today.