Losing our Crown


Crown Market of West Hartford announced this morning that it is closing after 70 years of business. That’s 70 years of serving the Jewish and general community of Greater Hartford. 70 years of bar (and then bat) mitzvah, bris, and shiva house catering, 70 years of challah baking (and delicious 7-layer cakes), and 70 years (ok, I haven’t checked to see if this was part of the original store) of the world-famous 5 o’clock shop, where busy moms, single guys, and the elderly all mixed together (and pushed a bit) to get a knish, a corned beef sandwich, a rotisserie chicken, and of course, the best tuna fish ever (with a secret ingredient……I wonder if we’ll ever know what it is).

This is a tragedy. Not just for the Jews of Greater Hartford who have made the Crown their home-away-from-home and the gathering spot for running into anyone who’s anyone (you’re only cool in this town if you can say “I saw him/her at the Crown”). Not just for the incredible workers at the Crown (and I knew most of them by name, and as a substitute mashgiach from time to time, I even knew the kitchen staff and loved spending time with them downstairs). Not just for those who are preparing to celebrate a family event soon and have booked the Crown and are now scrambling.

This is a tragedy for Judaism.

What is a Jewish community without a kosher butcher? (Yes, we have others, and I know you’ll tell me about Big Y and Walmart, but they’re part of the reason the Crown is dying so I’m not going to have that conversation right now.)

What is a Jewish community without an easy place to run in and grab a kosher sandwich?

What is a Jewish community without a standard, institutionalized kosher caterer, with the kind of staff members who can put the simcha (joy) into any family occasion?

What is a Jewish community that cannot see beyond its differences of opinions in order to sustain a small, intimate, family-owned business?

And finally: what is a Jewish community that does not feel keeping kosher is important enough, where so many say “my grandparents were kosher” but do not feel the need to declare “and my grandchildren will be kosher too”?

Yes, these are tough questions. And yes, there’s a lot of pain and anger and disbelief right now.

As my husband said to me: I feel like I’ve just learned that someone died.

And I responded: but there’s no one to cater the shiva meal.

We are all guilty – of not supporting this local Jewish business enough (for a variety of reasons, I know). And we are all responsible – I don’t know how, but if there’s any way to save the Crown it’s now or never.

We must now ask: is this what we want for our community, that we need to rely on our neighbors in Boston or New York for Jewish sustenance? What other institution has to close before we realize that the entire future of Judaism rests on our shoulders…..and we are failing? (a bit dramatic? I don’t think so!)

It is time for all of Greater Hartford’s Jewish community to come together, to ask some big questions and to figure out how to strengthen our Jewish community. We need to support our synagogues, to increase enrollment in our Jewish day schools, and to do everything else we can to ensure a vibrant future for all of us.

This is a sad, sad day in Greater Hartford. Let us work together so that we can make a better tomorrow.

Author: Rabbi Ilana Garber

Rabbi Ilana Garber is a Conservative rabbi. She is a traditional Jew, a feminist, a teacher of Torah, and a very proud Ima (mommy). Very new to the blogosphere.....so be patient and feel free to give tips!

8 thoughts on “Losing our Crown”

  1. Very well said, as one who does not keep kosher but was in the kosher business I understand this business, I always knew this could happen and have said many times that the community needed to support the one who has been there for many years but the different factions and their lack of trust of each other always created a big divide. The orthodox ran to Adams when they had a kosher section, but that did not last, same with Waldbaums but that is also gone but the Crown stayed. The final nail was Big Y’s expansion, but wondering what is going to happen when they decide it not worth dealing with the infighting and they to decide to close. A sad day for all.


  3. Colin is on the right track: Crown 2.0. It doesn’t work as a neighborhood market because many others are selling the Prego, Salad Dressing, etc. for less money. It can still work as a Co-op or perhaps the way a bagel store operates: Take out, eat in and catering. Keep all of the catering operation, the butcher, bakery and 5 o’clock parts. Get rid of the aisles. Put in tables. It could still be the best deli in the community and a meeting place for old and new friends to meet. With a redoing of the Crown, perhaps Beth Bye and Brian Becker can find some state money to help the owner and Udolf, especially to keep all of the jobs.

  4. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. We didn’t keep kosher growing up (so the “my grandparents kept kosher but I don’t” stereotype doesn’t hold up for me at least–and my grandparents lived nearby), although my mom has been a more regular customer in recent years, especially for family events as she has medical issues that prevent her from doing as much cooking as she used to. But she could get food from Crown and still have company.

    I wouldn’t say the options in Boston are much better. The Butcherie has good stuff, but they don’t have produce, or more importantly, parking. All things being equal, local businesses can be great, but I don’t feel like any place in Boston that is kosher (beyond things like bagels and ice cream, which are not what we’re talking about) are attractive or convenient except to go to out of obligation, which is IMHO a pretty poor standard.

    Did they have an issue with not being kosher enough for the Orthodox community?

  5. Don’t cry for the Crown Market, it could be worse! I have unofficially spoken with Big Y at Bishop’s Corner and they were made aware of Crown’s closing by their suppliers before the general public. They have met with their management. They are prepared to meet the demands as necessary BUT that totally depends on what those demands are (AS CONTROLLED BY US, THE GENERAL PUBLIC). Their main concern at the moment is Passover since all the Passover stock is already in house. So be thankful, New Haven and Springfield were left with no viable options.

  6. Agree with Lance 200%. Get rid of the center food aisles, they can’t compete with the larger volume stores and make it a meeting place exactly as Lance described. If town officials and other leaders of the community really want it to happen, it really isn’t all that much of an effort.

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