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Grocery founder hopes venture builds community

Associated Media Hart's Local Grocers
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Rochester Business Journal
January 17, 2014

It has been 85 years since Hart’s stores could be found in nearly every neighborhood of Rochester—113 stores within the city limits. This spring, the brand will be resurrected in a 21,000-square-foot space on Winthrop Street in the East End.

Hart’s Local Grocers is the brainchild of Glenn Kellogg, 39, manager of Rochester Local Capital LLC. A native of Rockville, Va., he moved here in 2011 with his wife, who is from Rochester. The couple wanted to put down roots in a strong community and get more involved than they had been able to do when they lived in Washington, D.C.

“Basically, my career has been building walkable places,” Kellogg said. “I took a look at the demographics and the housing and the neighborhood; there’s actually a really strong market here. In so many other places, the downtown neighborhoods would have way more services than are available (in Rochester).”

Hart’s Local Grocers has been in the works for more than two years and will be modeled after grocery stores like New Seasons Market LLC in Portland, Ore., which values locally grown foods and community involvement.

Hart’s East End LLC, doing business as Hart’s Local Grocers, is roughly 90 percent owned by Hart’s Founders LLC. The project has 17 investors including Rochester Local Capital, which owns about 50 percent of Hart’s Founders.

Rochester Local Capital is a neighborhood business investment firm created to fund projects that revitalize urban Rochester.

Kellogg also is a principal of Urban Advisors Ltd., a company based in Portland that provides economic and financial analysis to help sustain historic neighborhoods and support downtown redevelopment and smart-growth projects.

When looking at Rochester through a visitor’s eyes, Kellogg did not see a clear picture of the city. That changed when he moved here. He assessed the economic market downtown and realized the need for a grocery store.

“It’s not a market problem here; there’s other vision stuff that’s lacking,” he said.

Aside from Kellogg, Hart’s Local Grocers currently has three employees: Dean Sparks, general manager; Andrew Lederman, culinary director; and Andrew Katz, communications director.

Edward Starkie, principal of Urban Advisors, believes his colleague can make the store a success.

“He’s a very determined person,” Starkie said. “He’s been plugging away at this for at least three years now, and basically he refused to take any kind of setback as a reason to stop. He’s a very determined individual with a lot of talent, and I personally believe that the store is really going to be a success because he’s researched the right models about how to make these kinds of places happen.”

Sparks, who has been an organic farmer since 1997, believes Rochester deserves a smaller, neighborhood-friendly store like Hart’s.

“I just felt like it was really time in this area,” he said. “There’s obviously lots of other places and regions throughout the country where this format works very well.

“The bigger chains are not going to invest in an urban footprint right now in the Rochester area,” he added. “We think that there’s opportunity to bring these smaller urban-setting groceries into communities that are ready and able to support (them), and we believe Rochester is (ready) for that.”

The grand opening is tentatively set for May, by which time the firm expects to have at least 20 employees. The store will have a cafe and bakery, a deli where customers can get a custom-made sandwich, a dairy section, a selection of beer, a frozen foods section, meat and seafood with fresh-cut meats and prepared foods.

The grocery will occupy 18,000 square feet with another 3,000 square feet of office space upstairs. The location, between Restaurant 2 Vine and the Little Theatre, has a 130-space parking lot.

Jerry Serafine, owner of Restaurant 2 Vine, which shares the parking lot with Hart’s Local Grocers, thinks the addition to the neighborhood will prompt other retailers to move to the area.

“We think it’s fantastic news,” Serafine said. “We think it’s the best thing that could happen. I think it’s going to bring people down here, (and) I think it’s the first major retail opening since the closing of Midtown. It’s a huge watershed for the city to have that.

“I think it’s going to hopefully be the start of a floodgate of retail offerings down here, especially in the East End.”

Hart’s Local Grocers will occupy space that previously housed Craig Autometrics Inc. Burch Craig, president of Craig Autometrics, believed the Hart’s team was a good match for the neighborhood, Serafine said.

“Burch Craig, who’s retired and closed his business, was a huge neighborhood supporter. He was really looking for something like this that would benefit the neighborhood,” Serafine said. “The thing that makes him feel better is he’s leaving the neighborhood in a better place than when he first started, which is an amazing thing to say. And if all businesses acted that way, this city would be exploding right now.”

For the more than 6,000 residents of downtown Rochester, the store will foster a neighborhood feeling, he added.

“Having more people coming down here for whatever reason is always good,” Serafine said.

The store intends to employ a three-tier approach—good, better and best—that permits customers to choose from a variety of options that make the most sense to them and align with their values. When purchasing milk, for example, a customer could buy conventional milk, mid-grade all natural, antibiotic-free local milk or certified organic grass-fed milk.

The aim is to give consumers options and to encourage a slower shopping experience in which they can take their time and pose questions to the staff.

Larger grocery stores today have different ideas about standards compared to smaller-scale stores like Hart’s Local Grocers, Starkie said.

“There’s these basic ideas about grocery stores, that they have to be a minimum of 45,000 square feet, they have to have a two-mile radius where they capture between 30 and 50 percent (of the market) and they have to be located on a major arterial,” he said. “What Glenn is doing, though, is the kind of place that people want to come to because they feel part of the neighborhood, because the quality level is higher and the store listens to its customers and stocks what they need and want.”

He added: “It plays into a whole bunch of preferences that the standard model doesn’t really look at. The store itself becomes a destination for certain kinds of shoppers, and it means that your local capture tends to be much higher. If you’re just in the commodity business, if you’re going to buy a gallon of milk, you’ll buy it anywhere.”

Educating the staff on local products is a major focus for Hart’s. Every month, staff members will go on field trips to local farms to meet farmers and their families and get to know their products.

Local food options are one of the ways that Hart’s Local Grocers will set itself apart from bigger chains.

“I think we’re a shopping destination,” Sparks said. “I think people will walk to us, people will bike to us, people will drive to us. We expect to have products and availability in our store that you cannot get anywhere else in the city. The customer service level is going to be something that the city has never seen before.

“I think right now people who shop for groceries in the Rochester area don’t shop; they fulfill a list,” he added. “That’s a very big difference about what Hart’s is going to be about. You’re not going in there with a list and setting a timer, saying, ‘Man, I’ve got to be in and out of there in 20 minutes.’ We’ve forgotten what shopping is.”

Kellogg said he does not worry about competition from larger chain stores such as Wegmans Food Markets Inc. and Tops Friendly Markets.

“The other local stores, based on where they are, we’re really serving different markets,” he said. “When I first took a look at the demographics for the area, I think I took one mile outside of downtown. Looking at that area, I was imagining (it) should support about six small grocery stores. There are four groceries not in that circle but just outside of it; that means that there’s kind of a hole.”

Bringing back a name that has not been heard in Rochester since the 1960s, when it was changed to Star Supermarkets Inc., has triggered a strong, positive response from the Rochester community, Kellogg said.

“We’ve really been impressed and humbled by a lot of the responses that we’ve gotten,” he said. “The community has been so supportive. We already have over 800 Facebook likes, and everyone is really excited about this. Descendants of the Hart family have been sending us old photographs and telling us about wagons; all the descendants still have the little Hart’s wagons that we based our logo on.”

The signature Hart’s Spirit of Rochester orange wagon has been the emblem of the marketing campaign. In the past, Hart’s customers with 200 coupons were rewarded with free prizes, including the coveted wagon.

Hart’s Local Grocers was founded by Moses Hart in the 1800s and was handed down to his son, Alfred Hart, who expanded the business, making it the first grocery store in the nation to put store-brand labels on its shelves. He also is credited with creating the first self-service grocery market.

Hart’s Local Grocers is ready to be reintroduced to Rochester.

“My hope for this is that it makes life more convenient for people living downtown,” Kellogg said. “That it helps support walkable neighborhoods is our big goal, and that it improves the quality of life downtown. Also, I hope that we can make money doing it.”

Kellogg’s persistence is what got the project to this stage.

“When he gets an idea, he doesn’t let it go,” said Sarah Lewis, a colleague on past projects for Urban Advisors. “He has known that this grocery store has been the right thing for Rochester for a while. I wouldn’t call him a developer. Glenn is more like an investor in community; he’s only going to do things that he truly believes in, and his level of commitment will not waver.”

Creating a business around city living is something that should be taken seriously, Kellogg said.

“Investing in urbanism, urban businesses, urban stuff—that support, that quality of life that allows people to live that lifestyle—is also really good business. And there’s a huge market for it that is completely unmet here.”

1/17/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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