The Crown Market, a fixture in the Hartford area’s Jewish community for 74 years, is shutting its doors.
The specialty market, at 2471 Albany Ave. in West Hartford, is known for its comprehensive line of kosher products, including its deli, fresh meats and prepared foods.
Citing “significant increases in competition, cost of goods, and one of the worst winters on record in a decade,” Marc Bokoff, the Crown’s owner/operator, announced the closing of the West Hartford market in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
“We’re aware that hearing this news is as hard as sharing this news,” said Bokoff. “If there were any other option, we would most certainly stay to serve the community we truly love. However, under the current economic conditions we are unable to continue.”
Bokoff, who purchased the store in 2009, had strong competition from other stores in Bishops Corner, including Wal-Mart’s Neighborhood Market, Whole Foods and Big Y, which also features an in-store kosher meat butcher and kosher deli department. He initiated a number of promotions, but special discounts and customer loyalty programs were not enough to keep the business going.
The store had been struggling financially for some time. Robert Udolf of Udolf Properties, which has owned the building since 1988, said that he and his father, Leonard, reduced the rent for the Crown to below-market rate back in December.
“Marc Bokoff came to us several months ago telling us that he needed some help, and we lowered his rent,” Robert Udolf said.
Udolf said that he was shopping at the Crown on Tuesday morning when Bokoff called him into his office to tell him that he planned to close.
Udolf said Tuesday evening that he and his father were still talking to Bokoff, even after Bokoff announced the closing.
“We’re still trying very hard to keep them open. Everything on our end that we can do, we’re going to do,” Udolf said. Bokoff “was very open to it.”
Rob Rowlson, former director of community services and a part-time business development officer for the town, also heard the news.
“The Crown’s been a part of the history of West Hartford — one of the longest-running businesses we’ve ever had in our town. It’s truly a sad day for the business community, the loss of the Crown,” says Rowlson. “We look forward to assisting and helping find another great tenant to fill the space. They will be sadly missed.”
Lisa Kassow, director of Trinity College’s Hillel House, says the loss will be devastating to the Jewish community and to other Jewish institutions in the area.
“The Crown helped sustain a way of life for so many kosher shoppers from throughout New England,” says Kassow, a West Hartford resident. “It closed on Shabbat and followed the Jewish calendar and Jewish dietary laws. It was where you went for your holiday foods. It was a very special place and it will be missed tremendously.”
The store was founded by Sam Smith, Sam Sowalsky and Jack Sloat in 1940 as a small kosher market on Albany Avenue in Hartford’s North End before moving to West Hartford in the ’60s.
Steven Stolman, Jack Sloat’s grandson, grew up in West Hartford and spent much of his childhood and teenage years at The Crown.
“When I saw that the Crown might be closing, tears started to flow,” said Stolman. “Everyone in my family worked there. We knew customers by name. It was such an incredible part of our lives and such an incredible place that will be with me — and with so many other people — forever.”
Stolman, who lives in New York City and is president of the design company Scalamandré, created a Facebook page, “We All Loved the Crown,” as soon as he heard the news.
“I hope people will remember the Crown with affection,” he said.
In 2009, the third generation of family ownership sold the Crown to Bokoff, who had been a longtime customer. In his statement, Bokoff thanked the community for its support.
“On behalf of the entire Crown Market family, thank you … one and all for your loyal support. I ask that in a reflection of our faith, that we not dwell on this short window of sadness, but on the generations of joy we all experienced from the food that this market has provided,” Bokoff said. “We have had a longer and greater history than most, as well as an impeccable reputation every step of the way. As a result, we all have much to be proud of.”
The store will remain open until inventory is sold out, and catering commitments will be honored through Feb. 28. Customers with gift cards may redeem them for merchandise as long as the store remains open. Bokoff said management was working with staff members to help them find other jobs.
By KORKY VANN and JULIE STAGIS, Hartford Courant.