‘Uptick’ in interest from buyers at Millerton Square Plaza
MILLERTON — According to Millerton Square Plaza owner Joseph “Skip” Trotta, despite the rumors, the Route 44 shopping plaza that once housed the Grand Union supermarket has not been sold. However, “there has been an uptick in activity recently,” he said on Thursday, July 29.
Exactly how one should interpret that statement, said the 78-year-old Connecticut businessman who owns properties and businesses in the two states with his brother, Millerton attorney Robert Trotta, is key to understanding the most important part of this story.
“At one time I had three supermarkets, two liquor stores, a travel agency, all at the same time,” said Trotta. “My third supermarket was in West Hartford. My supplier wanted me to open two more supermarkets in the West Hartford area to make a group of them, but I said, ‘No, I’m done, they cost too much money to operate.’”
Which is why, when the Hannaford supermarket chain considered Millerton as a potential site for a store a number of years ago, the Maine based company had to assess whether it would be profitable. After all, the community is within a town — North East — with a population of 3,031, according to the last Census count on record (2010) and a village — Millerton — with a population count of 958, according to the 2010 Census.
Trotta broke down how difficult it can be for a supermarket to be profitable in a rural area like Millerton.
“The populations in our area are sparse,” he said. “These companies want 50,000 people within a couple of miles of the store. If you go up 20 miles you can pick up 30,000 people. Go up to Hillsdale to North Kent, maybe to Canaan, Ancram, and you can come up with 30-35,000 people. They look at the fringes; we don’t draw heavily from the fringe.”
He added that despite “not drawing from the fringe,” the Trotta family’s supermarket business, which was started years earlier by Skip’s father, the late Joseph Anthony Trotta Jr., was always strong.
“The fact is when I ran that store [Trotta’s grocery in Millerton], we were doing an incredible business. We had about 9,000 customers a week. And our sales today, if you take 1.9%, which was in ‘93 when I sold the business, if I take 1.9%, the flat number of years on my sales, it would match what Stop and Shop is doing today in North Canaan what we were doing in ‘93.”
To be clear for anyone who needs clarification, North East town Supervisor Chris Kennan confirmed later that Thursday, “No, the plaza has not been sold.”
In early 2011, Southern Realty developer John Joseph submitted a detailed site plan and all of the required paperwork, including in-depth environmental reviews and engineering plans, to the North East Planning Board on behalf of Hannaford. Following an extremely thorough review — which included testing for the endangered and elusive Bog turtle — the Planning Board granted final approval.
In the meantime, a group of 10 grocery store owners from around the Tri-state region was organized by Sharon Kroeger, owner of a small shop in Wassaic called Calsi’s Market. They aggressively protested the Hannaford application. To fight the application in court, though, a Millerton or North East resident was needed to give the case legal standing, as Kroeger lived in Amenia.
That’s when Kroeger enlisted the help of the late Anne Veteran, a former Millerton Village Board trustee who claimed the construction of the new supermarket would cause property damage and flooding to her home. Kroeger and Veteran filed an injunction to put the brakes on the application.
Although the court ultimately ruled in favor of the Planning Board and gave the application the go-ahead, it took so long and cost so much that Hannaford ultimately pulled out of the project — leaving Millerton without a supermarket.
At the time, the Department of Justice determined Hannaford was becoming too big, and that the company needed to sell off some of its stores. Hannaford did so; it also merged with Stop and Shop in North Canaan, Conn., to bring its goods to the region. The move made the need for a Millerton store even less essential in the eyes of many grocery companies, according to both the Trotta brothers and members of the North East Town Board, all of whom have been trying to lure another grocer to replace Hannaford since it withdrew its application.
Hannaford wanted to be at the plaza
And that is where this story picks up, according to Trotta.
Back in 2011, when Joseph was hoping to bring Hannaford to Millerton, there were two proposals the developer was considering, not knowing which would come to fruition.
The first was to refurbish the former Grand Union supermarket at the Millerton Square Plaza, where “they wanted to spend $6 to $7 million,” according to Trotta. He added Hannaford “never wanted to build.”
The second option was exactly that, “to build” anew at the Thompson Plaza, just a mile or so east on Route 44 toward the Connecticut border. Plans had been etched out for a large, brand-new store next to the plaza owned by Ken Thompson, who was in full support of the project. That site plan was a part of the application that won approval from the Planning Board, but by no means the developer’s or Hannaford’s first choice, said Trotta.
After the courts ordered Hannaford and Stop and Shop to merge, the Stop and Shop in North Canaan opened and has since become a popular destination for residents throughout the Tri-state region. For those in Millerton without transportation, though, it remains a far-off grocery mirage, along with other supermarkets in the area that may be near, but are still too far out of reach for many.
Hannaford returns to the plaza in 2021
Trotta said that was why he was extremely pleased when Hannaford reached out to him this January, to revisit the Millerton Square Plaza as it was reconsidering locating a grocery store there. Unfortunately, he said, after the visit negotiations were prevented from progressing.
“Hannaford did come around and Stop and Shop stepped on it,” said Trotta. “They didn’t want to compete with themselves in Millerton. Those are two facts I can tell you… Now Stop and Shop is in control; they are the majority in the merger and don’t want to compete with themselves. They already have our business from Millerton.”
There’s still hope
So while the plaza has not been sold as of this moment, and Hannaford is not moving into the former Grand Union site (which was most recently the Millerton Fresh Market, which closed in 2019), Trotta said there is an “uptick” in interest in commercial property, including in Millerton.
“There have been people knocking on the door looking at the plaza,” he said.
Meanwhile, there are plans in store for the former McDonald’s at the plaza, which closed in 2015. The stand-alone building has been drawing a lot of curious glances in recent months from local residents due to all of the activity taking place, including some construction and painting. The site had been sitting vacant since McDonald’s departed, with large “For Rent” signs on its walls and many wondering when a tenant would finally move in.
What was once a Burger King before becoming the Golden Arches has been leased from Trotta by Liz and Eric Macaire, a couple from Salisbury, Conn. The pair has been renovating the space since earlier this year.
According to Eric, there have been some delays in the project, but he said on Monday, Aug. 2, the plan is to open a restaurant serving fried chicken, sandwiches, barbecue and doughnuts in the former fast food restaurant space. He added that there is no date set for the opening as of the present moment.