A New Anchor Business in Downtown?

It needs a lot of work, but the historic Harrison's Hardware building has awesome potential.


One resident fondly remembers the creaking sound the wood floor used to make. Countless others will never forget the familiar faces of a family-owned business that supplied Milford residents and businesses with goods and services for more than a century.

We're talking about Harrison's Hardware, of course - the landmark building at 36 Broad Street in .

A Brief History

The store opened in October 1907 as Harrison and Gould. It grew over the years and, in time, brought in new merchandise and services and diversified its customer base to meet both changing demand and to compete in an evolving economy. That's how Richard Miller, one of the longtime owners, relates it in a Q&A published in 2000 on ConnTact.

Miller joined forces with Ace Hardware in Harrison's later years to gain greater buying power amidst the birth of big box competitors like Home Depot and Lowe's. But, eventually, the business met its demise when, in 2006, a fire in the building left the store flooded from the sprinkler system.

Today, the 15,000-square-foot structure, ripe with code issues, is essentially unusable in its current state.

The Building's Future

Harrison's has remained vacant since that fire, for more than five years. There was a glimmer of hope last year when Ace Hardware expressed an interest in possibly reopening there. At that time, in May, Milford Economic Development Commissioner Robert Stanton told the Connecticut Post:

"This is not an area of focus for them; they are concentrating on other parts of the country. But there is interest. There are current ACE franchise holders who are interested."

A reader responded to that article by stating in a comment:

“How will Ace compete with Home Depot or Lowes? Seems like a better idea would be to gut the building, and set up a restaurant in it, or divide it into smaller shops.”

Asked in April of last year what would be a good use for the space, Milford Patch reader said: "I would like to see a green grocer, something like a mini Glorias or a Trader Joes!"

We pose the question to you again: what would you like to see open at the former Harrison's Hardware store?

JP January 09, 2012 at 06:22 PM
I think the area by the Green has enough restaurants -- might be overkill adding another one. The idea of a green food grocery with takeout meals is a good idea -- sort of like Gloria's, but with healthier food options. That would be a good alternative to Whole Foods, which is way overpriced. Not sure about the need for a parking garage -- there usually seems to be enough parking by the Green. Seems like a like of expense and taxpayer dollars to build a garage for the few occasions the Green area gets overcrowded (Oyster Festival, St. Patrick's Day parade, etc.)
Angus January 09, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Until the city can get their act together and give meaningful tax brakes to folks willing to try their luck starting a business downtown this is a moot point. We can wish all we want but, let's get serious about making things worthwhile for those who want to start a business. The city needs to crack down on the folks who are responsible for the blighted Harrison's buidling. One idea though, a Daniel Street type club, with several stores attached, like record store that sells only vinyl, a place that sells craft beer and late night taco stand. Anyone got a few million dollars they don't need?
Bonnie Clark January 09, 2012 at 08:17 PM
With the increase in residences in the downtown area I see this as a perfect opportunity to remake the center of town to operate similar to that of a European village only with a New England twist! We are not looking for more cars in the Center, but I think we can cater to foot traffic...the green grocer/fresh food idea, orTrader Joe's concept could surely work. Get a Name anchor store and others will follow! Let's throw some ideas out there and have a dialogue about this.
Karen Telep January 09, 2012 at 08:21 PM
So glad you asked! I am a buisness owner and will be joining the local buisnesses downtown this spring. We have been told many times over how our store would be a wonderful fit in the old Harrisons! I thank everyone for the compliment!!! With that being said, i was actually thinking how nice it would be if we had a j.crew/crewcuts! (men,women and children). It would bring in sooo many more people/visitors to shop have lunch and stroll.(and not just in the summertime, but all year!) Like downtown Ffld, wesport etc. Thats my thought :)
Lynne McNamee January 09, 2012 at 09:18 PM
First, Karen - welcome! Please let me know if you want or need any marketing help - we specialize in working with local businesses for websites, SEO, direct mail, etc. RE: Harrisons - I would love to see a sponsored space for entrepreneurial seminars and workshops, shared retail space (for starting businesses with smaller inventory and/or just starting out). From that standpoint, Mood Swings seemed to have good luck with their shared space (via sad circumstances). Bringing in young businesses, with top level speakers, and mentoring for getting started could help not business launch but also succeed. The entrepreneurial series would draw people downtown, it would have programs to integrate them with local business, civic and non-profit leaders, which in turn would encourage folks to establish their businesses in Milford, once they "graduated" out of the program. Builds for the short term and the long term. On a separate note, I think Crate & Barrell would be a great addition over by Lowe's.
Diane Gendreau January 10, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Well, I know I am in the minority here, but I think it would make a great Irish Pub! Called Harrisons. We do have a lot of "watering holes" in downtown Milford - but and Irish Pub would be a new twist.
Monica January 10, 2012 at 02:22 AM
A tea place that people could meet at and play simple get to know each other games. We went to a place in Virginia called " food for thought " and it was fun! There were games on the table you could play while you ate. Something similar ......
Richard Platt January 10, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Like Ken Fellenbaum, I loved the old Harrison's. I always went their first when I needed a particular nut, bolt, or screw, etc. Their paint department was superb. They frequently undersold Home Depot anyway, and even when they didn't, their personal service and knowledge more than made up for it. It was the anchor store of downtown and drew a lot of business there. It would be great if it could be reopened as a hardware store, but that may not be possible, especially because it hasn't happened in all this time. If the building has to go, I hope that the mural on the driveway side can be saved.
tracy mccabe January 10, 2012 at 10:36 AM
I agree with Diane,,,an Irish pub would be grand...
MJ January 10, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Great dialogue here... "Harrison's pub" would be AWESOME!!
Gary Jeanfaivre (Editor) January 10, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Here's what a few of Milford Patch's Facebook fans said: Julie Barre Ucci -- I would like to see them restore it to the way it was! It was always a landmark in Milford and should remain that way. Joe Meade -- How about a nice Playhouse Theatre. Perfect spot to bring families for shows and performances. Make for a great Piano bar and maybe a drama school too!
D. TurnerWoods January 10, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Gary, you mentioned about the Milford Center for the Arts to work to dress up the windows until something is done.... I always thought of Milford Center for the Arts utilize Harrison's as an art gallery....since the visual arts have an extremely small space to exhibit work at the art center proper and opening receptions are difficult due to theatre, the cafe, music ensembles and such...I don't know call it Harrison's Art Gallery or 36-38 Broad St. Gallery. It then can have exhibits having receptions in line with the events throughout the center, lamp light stroll, the "door" event in August, all the shows on the green, the oyster festival, even the shows East Bound theatre group has at the art center, etc...
Carolyn Brainard Babjak January 11, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Your not in the minority Diane, I'm all for a Pub of some kind and Irish is a great idea! My thoughts were a themed restaurant with a bar. Theme being a "hardware store." I'm sure there are many in Milford that have photo's of the old Harrison's. Even when it was Harrison and Gould! And I'm sure the decorating would be easy part but upgrades this building would need would be costly. How about the city giving a tax break to a start up business that has good ideas and the financial backing necessary to start a business like this. I'm sure the citizens of Milford would love to see something happen with this property; it's been a long time empty.
arkay January 11, 2012 at 01:04 AM
An anchor business should be a business that has attracting power. As great as another bar/pub would be, it won't pull it new traffic. Think big. Here's some ideas: Retail: Something that's high-end and has a proven track record in downtowns in small footprints. The Apple Store is a perfect example of that, but that will not happen in downtown Milford. I'm thinking home good stores such as Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, West Elm. One of those stores could easily pull from the entire greater New Haven area. Or maybe a clothing store like J Crew or a Nike Store. These are chains that aren't in the mall or on Route 1 right now that could have a presence in town. Restaurant: Prime 16. This highly successful beer/burger/bar place in New Haven has been looking to expand for a long time. IMO it's better than Plan B and more appropriate for the downtown area. It has a name and a pull that would bring in a lot of people. A Shake Shack could also be very successful in this location as the branch in Westport has proven. How about an extension of one of the highly popular New Haven pizza restaurants? A satellite location for Modern Apizza or BAR, complete with club/live music section to make up for the loss of Daniel Street? I realize this is a bit of pipe dreaming, but to buy this property at its already-high price, refurbish it, and invest in a business, it better be something akin to the above where it's a guaranteed success.
Cyndy January 11, 2012 at 01:28 AM
What about transforming it into a B&B? People are always asking if there is a B&B downtown in walking distance of restaurants, bars, harbor, etc. I know the Lilly Pad used to be open, not sure if it is currently or if there are any others, but I've thought about it for years. My own little pipe dream,,,,
William January 11, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Harrisons was good, Diamonds was better. Maybe Wanda's can expand into it. or Dunkin donuts can make a return to center city.
RIck George January 11, 2012 at 02:27 AM
I had a long and happy relationship with Harrisons Hardware. I watched a special couple of weeks ago about a builder who built with only American made supplies. How about an ecclectic Buy American store, appliances, hardware, linens maybe an old fashioned soda fountain a place where families could gather a place where grandpa's could tell their grandchildren how things were in the "good all days".
Clair Gray January 11, 2012 at 04:09 AM
As the owner of a business right behind Harrison's I feel I have a vested interest here, please for the love of all that's holy NOT a parking garage! I love the idea of a greengrocer,or a year-round indoor farmer's market/CSA. Perhaps combined with a local farm to table restaurant? Sounding crunchy, I know...I would love to see Harrison's restored as it was, creaky old floors and a fascinating mix of hardware and household wares. I'd be happy with an art gallery or theater. But no matter what, I hope it is something that will benefit the downtown area, we have a great one and should preserve it's charm and dignity :)
arkay January 11, 2012 at 05:07 AM
A parking garage would be a mistake. I think other options for parking can be explored before that. Yale is doing a new downtown study and recommended a 3-story boutique hotel. Makes perfect sense. You can't have a destination without lodging. What a great alternative to the sterile corporate hotels in town. A great New England green as your view. Could attract visiting parents for the nearby colleges, or corporations that want to impress their visitors.
D. TurnerWoods January 11, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Someone had tried to do just that....they ended up opening in Stratford.
Clair Gray January 12, 2012 at 02:46 AM
hmm, boutique hotel...and they can all visit Clarity Wellness Spa...I like it :)
RONALD M GOLDWYN January 12, 2012 at 01:52 PM
We all have opinions, but it takes a person with the cash to restore that building. Without the money all is just wishful thinking. The most practical structure would be a professional or medical building. Whatever comes to that site, it is my hope that the exterior would be in keeping with Milfords past and not one that is modern and out of place. Right now the problem is the economy. Is it the time to make the cash investment?
Priscilla Lynn January 22, 2012 at 10:25 PM
There have been many positive suggestions shared throughout the comments to this story regarding what to do with the HH building. We might take the path suggested by Brad Purcell, Board Chairman of Fairfield Theatre Company. In reading an Opinion written in the Friday Connecticut Post written by him, he shares about the positive impact Fairfield Theatre Company had on downtown Fairfield, he wrote, "Ten years ago, downtown Fairfield was bordering on irrelevance, with little cultural activity and streets lined with empty store fronts. Today, our town is the envy of surrounding communities. Merchants are thriving, the streets are bustling day and night with energized citizens, and restaurants are packed with people that have 'Come out and gotten together. I would like to think that the FTC has had a hand in this success." Hmmmm, food for thought?
Richard Platt March 10, 2012 at 04:05 PM
A small grocery store on the site, preferably in the shell of the existing building, would be great. This could save the mural on the outside wall. The wooden pull-out boxes on the shelves toward the rear, which used to hold bolts, screws, etc. could be sold as a fund-raiser.
Joe Della Monica May 01, 2012 at 12:13 PM
Opening a new business in Milford is scary for a lot of my business friends. Spending $500,000 to open a new restaurant, like Harrisons is a roll of the dice propostion with little parking and the unfavorable business climate with certain city departments. It is much easier to open a new business in West Haven or Stratford
I think the idea of a Theatre Company is excellent! However there needs to be an incredible influx of money and resources to either tear the current building down or bring it up to code. I am not sure who has the financial resources to do this. But from a big picture perspective this would bring a tremendous amount of traffic to downtown which would benefit everyone.
arkay May 01, 2012 at 08:04 PM
I disagree. The right restaurant that's already established as very popular in another area would do really well there. Think regional restaurants like Barcelona, bartaco, Prime 16, Modern Apizza, popular staples that would fit in well with the downtown atmosphere. There's the potential side parking on that building and there's usually plenty of parking along the green.
arkay May 01, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Or a Dinosaur BBQ!
arkay May 21, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Is there any progress with this? This space being empty is really holding downtown back. The right tenant could literally transform that whole area.
Barbara Morrell June 27, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Karen, I with you on clothing. I know the Harrison family well and it would break my heart to see the building razed or change. I realize it needs to be updated but please whoever goes there please keep the look. NOTE: The reason the building didn't burnduring the fire that took out two stores, Canvas Patch and the candy store because Charlie Harrison had installed an outside sprinkler system so when the fire got hot the system saved the building. What genius, sprinkers outside the building. Then the second fire, since everyone loved the wooden floors, even though the insurance rates went up because of them, Charlie installed a system inside the store so when that fire "happened"(?) the outcome was water damage. Eveidentally Charlie and Alice Harrison wanted the piece of Milford History to last on and on.


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