Abe Kaoud, the Oriental rug czar, hosted a gathering Friday under a tent at the site of the former Old Mill furniture outlet on Washington Street, near West Street, where he'll be building a CVS pharmacy with a drive-through and an Aldi grocery store.
But not a rug store.
Aldi, with a new store in Rocky Hill and others under construction in East Hartford, Vernon and Newington, is a low-price grocery store. It carries basic "private label" items produced and packaged for Aldi. Shoppers bag their own groceries.
"There's four kinds of pickles instead of 45, which has certain logic to it," said Richard Kearney, the economic development specialist in the city planning office.
The $5 million project is Kaoud's first in the city, but probably won't be his last. He's eyeing Newfield Street for another retail development. The foreclosure and imminent bank takeover of the sprawling Town & Country auto dealership property on Newfield Street is drawing interest from Kaoud and other developers, city officials have said.
Kaoud and his sons and brother own five rug stores in the Hartford-Springfield area, two in metro New Haven, and two in Fairfield County. He just completed a shopping center in Torrington and is seeking approval for shops in Canton on Route 44, which would be his second development there.
"We think Middletown is a good area that has been overlooked for retail. We see opportunities," said Kaoud.
He bought the 7-acre Old Mill site from Edward Larson in February 2007 for $1.5 million. Getting approval for this project took some doing. The city's land-use boards had concerns about traffic congestion and safety, and the environmental impact on the Coginchaug River, which runs along the eastern edge of the property, and on wetland areas in back of the site.
In deference to the heavy traffic on Washington Street, only eastbound cars will be able to turn in or leave the parking lot. The second entrance and exit will be from West Street - requiring Kahoud to build a bridge over the Coginchaug.
It was the first time that the inland wetlands commission had seen a privately owned river bridge proposed on an application, said Matt Dodge, the city's environmental planner. Commission members and city residents questioned whether cars would stack up on West Street and whether construction would damage the river and its banks.
In the end, Kaoud agreed to remove as little as possible of the vegetation along the river banks, and he'll be using sand on the bridge surface in the winter, not salt.
Kaoud said the bridge should be a fairly straightforward engineering exercise.
Dodge said there's an easement on the property that can provide public access to the river.