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Beloved Independent Grocery Store Going Out of Business

Crown Market became a West Hartford institution during its 74 years in business, most notably for its kosher products, but the owner says they can no longer compete with the many chain stores that have popped up around them.

Robert Lesser has been shopping at Crown Market since 1964. Credit: Gary Jeanfaivre
Robert Lesser has been shopping at Crown Market since 1964. Credit: Gary Jeanfaivre
It's a story that has become all-too-common in Connecticut and communities across the country: another mom-and-pop shop is squeezed out by big box chains.

And while the story always seems to be the same, each one has unique characters and somewhat different circumstances. Yet they all seem to remind us, often times too late, of just how important local businesses are to a community. 

Here's how this one goes...

One customer called Wednesday while on vacation in Turks and Caicos, to place an order for some of her favorites.

A Hamden man drove about 35 miles Thursday just to score some corn beef.

And countless others are coming from near and far for a final visit to Crown Market as the West Hartford institution prepares to close its door after 74 years in business.

They're coming to a market that has been woven into the fabric of the community, to a place where their parents and grandparents shopped, to a special place. Or, as one customer calls it, "heaven."

But the bottom line is that Crown is a business, and the owner said feelings had to be put aside when making the difficult decision to close. 

“We’re aware that hearing this news is as hard as sharing this news,” said Marc Bokoff, Crown Market's owner. “If there were any other option, we would most certainly stay to serve the community we truly love. However, there are moments, passion aside, when you simply can’t fight the progress of time. For a family-owned kosher market, with more than a half-dozen national chains in all directions, it’s time for us to say goodbye.”

At Crown, You're Like Family

While the food has always been the draw — especially the kosher products that have become a staple for so many Jewish families, and that you just can't find anywhere else — the heart of Crown Market may be its dedicated employees.

To some customers, they are more like family. And after Tuesday's announcement that Crown is closing once its existing inventory is sold, a sense of sadness has set in amidst the many farewells being exchanged in aisles, over counters, and at registers.

"Nice knowing you," Chris Dombek said fondly to a couple he had just helped in the bakery section.

A Crown employee for four years, he added, "That's the sad part. I'm going to miss a lot of the customers."

One elderly woman came just to give Mike Hanson a hug. Hanson has worked at Crown for 15 years.

Fred Kaplan came for a final visit Thursday, too. A Crown employee gave him a baseball hat with the store's logo on it. Kaplan, of Hamden, held it up proudly.

"I drove all the way up for that killer corn beef," he said.

"It's a shame," said Robert Lesser.

Lesser has been a regular Crown customer since he moved to West Hartford in 1964. He said the market's many kosher prepared meals were a godsend, particularly for Jewish families in which both the husband and wife work.

"This was a heaven," he said. "A gift from God."

Craig Hahn, a Crown employee of 34 years, said, "I think the community needs it."

[Editor's note: A slightly different version of this story was originally published on West Hartford Patch. To read that story and to see more photos from Crown Market, click here.]

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