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Hart’s the latest casualty in the grocery wars

Perhaps unsurprisingly in an era of  seismic shifts in the world of food markets, Hart’s Local Grocers announced this week that it will shut its doors by the end of the month, less than five years after the independent grocery store opened.

harts-positive-color_cmykprintHart’s founder Glenn Kellogg announced the closure Monday by way of Facebook and did not return a call for additional comment. The note said streamlining the store’s operations last year created the most profitable year in the store’s history, but declining sales made it impossible to continue.

“Looking to the past and projecting on the future, we imagined a livable neighborhood with daily services for its residents. We think we built a piece of that vision,” the post read. Certainly, with condominiums and new luxury apartment steps from the store, a growing population of downtown residents was available to patronize the store, even on foot. Additional residents will be coming to mixed-income apartments being built now on land reclaimed by filling in an adjacent section of Inner Loop.

But gaining potential customers and shaping their shopping habits in time to keep the store afloat apparently wasn’t to be.

“In general, retail downtown in that area, it’s just a little difficult,” said John Gonzalez, one of the co-owners of 66-year-old Hegedorn’s Market in Webster. “They had a lot of really great products and provided good service to the customer. It was a very cool place,” he said.

It takes more than a few years to establish a brand and change consumer patterns, he said, which in Rochester are heavily geared toward driving to Wegmans for groceries. “It’s always hard to compete with Wegmans; they’re always good at what they do,” he said.

During Hart’s brief lifetime, major shifts in the way groceries are bought and sold have made it more difficult for small independents and giant chain stores alike to stay in business.

Hart’s had made much of its delivery service, which was a rarity in this market when the store opened in 2014 and when the service was offered in early 2015. The original Hart’s, another grocery store that operated in Rochester and closed many years ago, delivered groceries by wagon, so a wagon became the logo of the present-day store.

The quaint child’s wagon, however, ended up going head-to-head with the Uber-ization of grocery shopping.

In the last few years, entire businesses have sprung up to manage online ordering and home delivery. Walmart and Wegmans began offering drive-up service for groceries and other items ordered online. In the last year, Wegmans and Target both began home delivery, too, through a phone app.

Hegedorn’s Gonzalez said his store is working with a local company to develop online ordering for home delivery. Hegedorn’s has offered home delivery for some time, and appears to be the only market in the area offering the throwback service of having baggers  wheel your groceries to your car.

Hart’s lifetime also has included expansion of discount chains such as Dollar General and Aldi across the country, with the Rochester market being no exception.

“So many more retailers today are selling groceries than they were a decade ago. That makes it more difficult for everyone,” Gonzalez said.

Retail game-changer Amazon bought Whole Foods, bringing its delivery model to a higher-end grocer and offering discounts to shoppers who are members of Amazon Prime. A Whole Foods has been proposed for the Rochester area, but is held up in legal disagreements.

Grocery stores much larger than Hart’s have struggled to stay upright. Tops, based in the Buffalo area, and the parent company of Winn-Dixie, in the South, have both filed for bankruptcy reorganization. Tops closed five stores in the Rochester area last year to streamline its operation.

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