The Hartford Courant reports that when Max Kothari and his wife bought the Star Hardware store their vision was to provide jobs and service to the city and its residents. However, to the Kotaris’ dismay, the last four storms that brought flooding and sewage to the neighborhood have forced them to close their doors for good to the community that they have loved and cultivated throughout the years.
Kothari said that the most recent two storms finally did the store in, as he kept acquiring inventory damages. He said that the remaining inventory will be given to Habitat for Humanity. While the store is permanently closed, the appliance and window portion remains open at the building next door and no employees will lose their employment, he said. He expressed his belief that the closing of the hardware store is a casualty of the city government choosing not to take action.
Kothari said that every time it rains, a nearby retention pond overflows into the building, which causes flooding damage within the hardware store – and which has happened to him four times.
“The mayor knows that the leaks are coming from the pond (in the back of the store), but we are not getting (help)…,” Kothari said. “It’s just put a nail in the coffin for the hardware store, as we are struggling with other things…closing the hardware store has nothing to do with our hardware community or our customers. Our customers are still coming…We believe (it was due to) lack of competency on the part of the city government.”
“It is an incompetency factor that we need to bring out…that people are just not managing our affairs with the city correctly, and then hiding behind this always (as an) environmental issue and…a weather issue…that was a conscious decision to ignore the North End and it’s very disheartening,” he said.
Mayor Luke Bronin said Monday, “I suspect that Star Hardware was suffering from the understandable challenges of competing as an independent business in an industry dominated by chains, and it’s perplexing that Mr. Kothari feels the need to make the statements that he’s made — which are neither accurate nor fair — about a city that has tried very hard to help him.
“The city has committed significant investment in the north end of Hartford, with tens of millions of dollars of additional investment in process today — including along North Main Street near Mr. Kothari‘s property, from broadband expansion, to housing, to the recent announcement of a $19 million streetscape grant for North Main,” Bronin said.
“The city has taken a direct and active role in attempting to resolve the issues of flooding near Mr. Kothari’s property, including submitting an application to the state’s Community Investment Fund to expand the retention pond adjacent to his property. That project, which would cost more than $6 million…and would primarily benefit Mr. Kothari’s property, was not selected for funding — but it has remained a priority ask for the city,” Bronin said.
Further, Bronin said, “following the severe floods in 2021, we convened multiple conversations between the Housing Authority, the MDC, and Mr. Kothari, in an attempt to broker a resolution that would help address Mr. Kothari’s issues— even though those conversations were complicated by the fact that Mr. Kothari had threatened legal action against the MDC and the Housing Authority. Ultimately, the only way to eliminate the risk of flooding on Mr. Kothari’s property is the same as it is elsewhere, and that is massive, long-term investment in upgrading an ancient storm sewer system that’s overwhelmed by the increasingly intense storms.”
Bronin also, in previously offering support to residents, has noted the sewer systems were built more than a century ago, “for the most part. It’s an ancient system” and that there is work being done to separate the sewer from the storm sewer, “so that when there’s flooding, it doesn’t back up and put sewage back into people’s basements.”
Kothari’s decision to close came less than a month after Gov. Ned Lamont and his administration in June committed $85 million in state funding from the state Clean Water Fund and related funding for a pilot program to address sewage overflows in streets and basements in North Hartford. Residents and businesses there have been chronically impacted by the long-term recurrence of flooding.
The Clean Water Fund is administered by state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and is used by the state to provide financial assistance to municipalities for projects addressing wastewater. The new money is expected to be applied to 12 projects proposed by the Metropolitan District to increase protections from sewer and stormwater-related flooding and backups in North Hartford, with the project estimated to cost $170 million in total.
Officials also have said that, coupled with the $85 million commitment, the biennial state budget that Lamont signed creates the Hartford Sewerage System Repair and Improvement Fund, a pilot grant program overseen by State Comptroller Sean Scanlon that will provide support to Hartford residents impacted by flood damage on or after Jan. 1, 2021.
Kothari said that making the decision to close the store has hit residents and his employees the most, as they have developed strong friendships with community members who have patronized the store throughout the years.
“It’s been the hardest on the employees, because they every day helped people. And suddenly those same people when they come through the other door, (and) say ‘Hey, can I just get a can of paint? Hey, can I just get this? Hey, can I get that?’ We have to now say no…,” he said.
“Even though you don’t realize it, it’s the same contractor that walks into the neighborhood that does X amount of work, this will be the same person that lives down the street. Emotionally, it’s very, very hard to absorb, after such a long history, something like this can happen,” he said.
Kothari said that while many of his employees disagreed with the decision and wanted to try to figure out a way to keep the business open, the losses kept coming one after the other with the recent storms, leaving him with no other choice.
One of his employees, Sam, has been working at the store for 25 years – opening and closing the store, said that it was very hard for him to hear the hardware store is closing, as he made many friends with community members.
“My heart was crying, because we work hard…the heartbreak. We miss friends, it’s been 25 years…we feel it bad in our heart, because we have been through every day like that…When we see the weather, we are scared,” he said.
Another employee of the hardware store, Lloyd Brown, has also worked there for 25 years and said that it is difficult to see the store close.
“To be honest, I felt really bad about that. Because I’ve been in the system with the hardware (for) so long…I have other customers that come in and feel the same way,” he said.
Now that the hardware store is closed, the workers said, residents will have to travel to other surrounding towns. as this was a primary business for many community members to get their keys made, get screws or locks for their home projects, or buy a can of paint.
Kothari said that he is truly grateful to the North End Community for supporting the store throughout the years.
“The most important thing (that) needs to (be said) about today: I cannot be more thankful to the North End community,” he said. “There are folks in our community that will leave Home Depot to buy stuff at my place. The only reason is because they cared, because they knew we cared here. We used to issue credit to contractors, just at face value, all those things the community (will) miss,” he said.