Despite a tough retail economy, one Connecticut shopping center with more than 90 years of history continues to thrive and has recently embarked on a massive expansion campaign.

Copaco Center, located at 335 Cottage Grove Road in Bloomfield, has begun construction on its latest phase of development and announced that Lowe’s Home Improvement will build its newest store at Copaco, which is just minutes from Hartford and the intersection of Interstate 91 and Interstate 84. Last week, the family-owned shopping center hosted area business leaders, who mixed a batch of mortar and placed the first bricks on the foundation of its newest store.

“A variety of new retail space and the addition of Lowe’s will double Copaco Center’s lease capacity size to a total of 450,000 square feet,” said Bonnie S. Bercowetz, president of the Connecticut Packing Co., the 94-year-old family-owned business which owns and manages the shopping center in the same location where it started. Bercowetz is a third-generation member of the family and is the first female president in the company’s history. “This positive news has already attracted potential national and regional tenants into leasing discussions,” she said.

“This growth is the first step in a strategic master plan that should be completed by 2005,” says Paul Klopp, Copaco Center’s director of operations. “It also features one new restaurant pad on Cottage Grove Road and another around the corner on Granby Street, next to a new entrance into our center.”

Currently under construction at Copaco Center is the new 11,000-square-foot location of the family’s Copaco Liquors, which was first added to the center in 1972 when the previously “dry” Bloomfield first allowed the sale of alcohol. Copaco Liquors is scheduled to open at its new site in February of next year; almost 29,900 square feet of new retail space eventually will be located in the same building. F.A. Hesketh & Assoc. is the engineer for the building, which was designed by Dew Architects and is being constructed by Bartlett Brainard Eacott.

Excavation has begun for Lowe’s, which will be located south of the new Copaco Liquors. “This store represents a $16.5 million investment for our company, but it is also a huge return for the community, with the new tax revenue and the creation of 175 new jobs,” said Frank Romano, Lowe’s Connecticut district manager for store operations. “We are excited to come to Bloomfield.”

The new Lowe’s will have 116,000 square feet of retail space and a 27,000-square-foot garden center. The home improvement retailer will offer more than 40,000 different products. Lowe’s is the 12th largest retailer in the United States, and the opening for its Bloomfield store is slated for the fall of next year.

Kalman Bercowetz, grandfather of Bonnie Bercowetz, founded Copaco Center in 1909 as the Bercowetz Family Farm. During the Great Depression, he built a small meat packing plant called Connecticut Packing Co. on his Bloomfield farm as a way to provide jobs for his two sons, Herman and Irving. In 1947, their brother-in-law, Israel Rosenthal, joined them. They steadily developed the Copaco property, adding a small grocery store, fruit and vegetable stand and the original Mr. Frankee hot dog stand in the early 1950s.

By 1966, those businesses had grown into Copaco Supermarket on Cottage Grove Road, one of the largest supermarkets in the Northeast at that time, and became the retail hub for one of Connecticut’s faster-growing communities. Copaco Liquors was added six years later. The complex expanded to 265,000 square feet between 1978 and 1999.

In 1995, Copaco Center underwent a total renovation, adding new retailers to its thriving center. In April 2000, a 69,000-square-foot Stop & Shop Super Store opened as an anchor of the plaza and CVS Pharmacy built a freestanding 10,880-square-foot building with a drive-through window, only steps away from its previous site. Today, national chains including Dress Barn and Dunkin Donuts stand alongside family-owned local businesses. The oldest tenants, Battison’s Cleaners and Bloomfield Opticians, have been located in Copaco Center since the 1960s.

Last year, the master plan to build an additional 250,000 square feet at Copaco Center was approved by the town of Bloomfield. The entire project should be completed during the next five years.

Although Bonnie Bercowetz’s father, Irving, passed away in 2002, his two partners still serve as corporate officers of the company, Herman Bercowetz as vice president and Israel Rosenthal as secretary. Klopp, her husband, has been in charge of constructing and executing the approved master plan and is a member of the company’s board of directors. Her cousin, Alan Rosenthal, is assistant manager of Copaco Liquors. Three other third-generation members of the three original families serve as board members: Linda Einhorn, Donald Bercowetz and Daniel Rosenthal. Nearly all of the family members still reside in Bloomfield.