Curt Cameron, president of a small Bloomfield brewery, rang Hartford Distributors a couple years ago looking for a new wholesaler. He wound up with an evangelist for his beer.
Executives at Hartford Distributors — among Connecticut's biggest beer wholesalers and one of four Budweiser affiliates in the state — quickly recruited the three other affiliates to offer beers from Cameron's little-known Thomas Hooker Brewing Co. in their territories, too.
"I credit them with really helping the brand grow so rapidly over the years," Cameron said Tuesday in the aftermath of the massacre at Hartford Distributors' Manchester plant, where a worker killed eight people, then himself.
The Hollander family, which has owned Hartford Distributors since the 1950s, originally as a Schlitz wholesaler, saw a commercial opportunity in promoting Hooker beers. Its bet on a local microbrewery also illustrates the family's reputation for a broader commitment to Greater Hartford.
"The Hollander family is one of the most respected families that I know in the state of Connecticut," said Leonard Levine, chairman of Levine Distributing Co. in Norwich, one of the other Budweiser distributors. "They would just do anything for people."
The family is the primary benefactor of the Hollander Aquatics Center at the Mandell Jewish Community Center and a contributor to a long list of other Jewish and secular causes in the area.
In 1994, the family donated a life-size bronze statue of Mark Twain to the city of Hartford. At first the statue was displayed outside the Hartford Public Library, then moved to storage during the library's renovation. When the city couldn't afford to move it back, the Hollanders said they would pay for it.
Jules Hollander, who died in 2001, bought Hartford Distributors in 1955, according to Levine, whose father left him an account of Budweiser distributors in Connecticut. Hollanders have operated it ever since, initially in East Hartford, then in Manchester.
Ross Hollander, Jules' son, is the company's current president. Ross' nephew, Steven Hollander, is an operations executive. Steven was injured in the shooting. No family member was killed.
Over the decades, the family built Hartford Distributors into one of the largest beer wholesalers in the state and embedded itself further in civic life. Jules Hollander was a former chairman of the Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau and a former director of Hartford Hospital, according to his obituary in The Courant. Ross has served on the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford.
Among the four Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser) distributors in Connecticut — Dichello Distributors of Orange, Dwan & Co. in Torrington, Levine and Hartford — Hartford Distributors is second biggest, according to Levine. The company moves the equivalent of four million cases of beer a year, he said, and serves more than 1,000 restaurants, bars, package stores and supermarkets in Hartford, Tolland and Middlesex counties.
Known within its trade locally as Hartford, or HDI, the company sells primarily beer and employs between 100 and 175 people, Levine and Cameron estimated. On any given day, the company has 50 or 60 trucks on the road, Levine said. (Records of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration show the company owns 58 trucks and tractors. Its drivers covered more than half a million miles last year.)
Hartford Distributors also has been growing. The company, which moved to Manchester in the late 1980s or early 1990s, earlier this year acquired Franklin Distributors, a wholesaler of off-brand beers then based in South Windsor. Operations were consolidated operations in Manchester, Levine said.
A spokesman for the Hollander family, James Battaglio, said family members were not giving interviews Tuesday, but planned to address employees of Hartford Distributors Wednesday.
In a brief statement, Anheuser-Busch called Hartford Distributors "one of our valued wholesalers since 1955" and said "We are deeply saddened by this tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their loved ones at this time.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun