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A storied past, and a 'Hart' for the future

When grocery stores first opened, they were neighborhood-specific and independently owned; more closely resembling the corner bodegas still found in larger cities like New York and Chicago. Mother and child would walk hand-in-hand to the nearest store to pick up a few ingredients for that night’s dinner, rather than settle in with a double decker shopping cart and stock up on bulk frozen items to stow away in a basement icebox for the coming months.

A return to that neighborhood model inspires the team behind Hart’s Local Grocers, a brand-new grocery facility moving into the former Craig Automotive warehouse on Winthrop Street. It’s a name that might ring familiar to longtime 585’ers: Hart’s was a small shop founded in the 1880s by Jewish immigrant Moses Hart. His innovative, philanthropic son Alfred eventually grew Hart’s to a chain with 113 locations, but by the 1940s, the stores began to close.

The vision for the new Hart’s, a two-story, 40,000-square-foot building sandwiched between the Little Theatre and 2Vine Restaurant—two popular choices for dinner and entertainment in the downtown district—is a revival of 1940s atmosphere and service.


The original team in front of a Hart’s Market location on East Main Street, 1933.

The new Hart’s team, from left: Andrew Katz, Andrew Lederman (with son Lorenzo Silvio), Jenny Kellogg, Glenn Kellogg, and Dean Sparks, 2014.

Rebranding, redone

Whenever a new business is opened, the name and brand are important first decisions. Hart’s founder Glenn Kellogg, an urban economist and Rochester transplant, says the resurrection of an already-known brand was intentional. “It was a strategic choice, [because] our business model is, in a way, trying to look back to the past,” says Kellogg. “As we built this brand, we looked back to what it was like in Rochester—who were the names here? Hart’s not only sounded better than, say, Flickinger’s, it also came with this great story about a guy who was a philanthropist for the community and represented a lot of things we represent.”

The Hart’s creative team, led by communications manager Andrew Katz, went to work furthering the story. They created a logo that sports the historical Hart’s delivery wagons, a website decked out in (digital) brown paper packaging, and blogs about the history of Hart’s and the local vendors they’ve already teamed up with. Before they’ve even opened their doors, Hart’s has a following—all because every decision has been intentional. “When you think about it, a grocery store is just a big, empty warehouse,” says Kellogg. “There’s not a ton of things that really add to the experience of that. But every touch point we have, we think about it carefully. Even things as simple as chalkboards, bins, shelves, and your experience at checkout.”

General manager Dean Sparks, who comes to Rochester from GreenStar Cooperative Market in Ithaca and farmed for nearly twenty years in Chenango County, says Hart’s will create a very different staff culture as well. “It’ll be an environment that’s very familial and also focuses on the passion and talent of the people running the store.That’s always driven us as a team, and we want to see that through to cashier and stocker,” he says. “We look for talent in areas that have maybe nothing to do with food or even retail. It’s more about what you want to jump out of bed and do everyday, and what makes your world go ‘round. People are a little taken aback by our interviewing style, because it’s not, ‘Tell me about a time,’ it’s, ‘What do you really love to do?’ We’re creating positions around that talent set.”

Commuter community

There’s an old saying that goes, “Every trip begins and ends as a pedestrian trip.” That is to say, people walk out of their homes, board transportation, disembark from transportation after the journey, and walk to a final destination. But what if transportation, specifically motored transportation, wasn’t part of every journey? The team at Hart’s will encourage shoppers to commute—there’s an estimated 3,000 households within walking distance of the store, or half a mile—though parking will be available in the adjacent lot (shared with 2Vine and the Little Theatre). Kellogg also plans to cater to the city’s cyclists.“This is a driving culture, but we have great cycling infrastructure,” he says. “We hope to have bike racks at both entrances and a bike corral on the south end of the building.”

And if it seems like there are plenty of grocery stores downtown already, consider: population-wise, the two mile radius around downtown Rochester could support roughly six grocery stores, says Kellogg. “The more, the merrier,” adds Sparks. “We want more people to come downtown. The East Avenue neighborhood is going to keep getting better.”

Good eats

Unlike other grocery stores in the area, Hart’s won’t carry their own line of products. Instead, they’re working with more than fifty local vendors, from Victor to East Bethany, to stock their shelves with the freshest regional offerings they can find. “We’ve been to the farms and met their families,” says Sparks. “Every farmer has a great story, every food has a great story to tell, and we’re the medium by which they tell their story.” Of course, Hart’s will stock some national products, too—just not in excess.“Maybe we won’t have forty-seven different kinds of ketchup, but we’ll have four,” says Sparks.

Beyond the groceries, there are plans for an open kitchen, community cooking classrooms, and a café, headed by culinary director Andrew Lederman (who was the owner of the popular Bodhi’s Café at Village Gate). The café will serve Americana comfort foods such as daily macaroni and cheese and meatloaf selections. “It’ll be worth coming just for the grab ’n’ go food,” says Sparks. Near the café will be a hot and cold deli, coffee shop (Hart’s plans to rotate area coffees each month), seafood department, and a butcher counter where Hart’s will cut their own meat (the first store downtown to do that). “I think people who have lived here all their lives are accustomed to a certain way they buy and consume their food,” says Sparks. “They fulfill a list in as fast an amount of time as they can.We actually know how, we think, to make food shopping an experience. Something you want to do, not something you have to do.” 

Leah Stacy is the editor-in-chief of (585) magazine. 

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