This Space For Lease

The other day, an alert “06880” reader — hopefully in the passenger seat — counted 25 “For Lease” signs on stores and business properties on the Post Road, just between Whole Foods and Roseville Road.

On another trip, in the other direction — Bulkley to Roseville — he spotted 25 more.

That’s over 50 vacant stores and offices, on the Post Road alone.

There are 10 or so others on Main Street.

Is there something wrong with Westport’s commercial real estate market?

If so, are there solutions?

Click “Comments” below.

155 Post Road East (across from Design Within Reach) is one of dozens of commercial properties standing vacant. There are 2 empty storefronts in this building.

57 responses to “This Space For Lease

  1. Tom Feeley Sr

    The most significant item in a retail budget is rent, which includes town taxes. Main Street is over $100 psf. At 2,000 square feet, that’s a rent budget of $200 grand before insurance and payroll. Hard to make a profit.

  2. William Spencer

  3. Adrian Little

    It seems the solution is to build more and renovate what is there, thus raising the rent cost so that even less people can afford retail but hey what do I know that the property developers don’t!

  4. The big retail chains are willing and able to front the costs and accept losses of most of the large and desirable spaces around town but the smaller scattered spaces, you’re speaking of, that are traditionally for the mom and pops are not being filled. I’m worried it’s not going to happen…. between online competition, local big box competition, and the need to put your home on the line as collateral to give a great retail idea a go, the barriers are just too high. Who knows what will happen to all these spaces, I’m assuming the rents will come down, eventually… or the building will be repurposed as housing or? But all the new beautiful spaces being built continues to create more empty ones…

  5. Bob Weingarten

    Chicos gone, Nike going, a shoe store empty – if this trend continues there will be no downtown for people to come and shop in downtown Westport!.

  6. John Karrel

    One word: Amazon

    • Jamie Walsh

      John is right! I have informally polled over 20 individuals ranging from ages 15 to 27 and they do 30-70% of there shopping online. This trend is growing in so many categories. High end retailers are closing in droves and it will be felt by many communities across the country.
      Retail landlords are going to need to adapt and be creative and rent reductions are inevitable if they want to survive.

  7. Susan Iseman

    Supply & Demand.

  8. John Knofla

    E-commerce is certainly taking a bite out of most retailers & when General Growth Properties planned 1 million sguare foot mall opens in the fall of 2019 off of I-95 in South Norwalk (construction underway) this will exacerbate the problem for downtown Westport’s retailers IMO……….

  9. Jeff Giannone

    Amazon is a factor but so is our lack of vision and creativity. There is very little reason to go Downton. It’s boring, unattractive and stagnant, in my opinion. The one possible solution remaining might be to close Main Street to cars and create something fun and interesting to draw people back. Allow apartments above all the shops, relocate Farmer’s markets, flower markets, food vendors, artisans, music, etc. and operate into the night. Take a page from the great European towns!

    • Denielle de Wynter

      I like this idea!

    • Jack Whittle

      Are you under the impression that apartments are not allowed above the shops now?

      As far as eliminating cars from lower Main Street, there are many studies, and real life examples, where turning a slow rate of speed street through a shopping district into a pedestrian mall does not magically attract more shoppers to the stores that line the street, and in some cases such efforts have been seen as accelerating the decline of a downtown area. Surprisingly, the “eyeballs” the street-facing stores receive from passing cars on a slow-paced street helps to advertise the stores, and the area if it is presented well,

      I’m not saying it’s a terrible idea, but it might not be the sure-fire great idea you think it is.

      I agree with the sentiment that the current rent levels are hard to digest in a sustainable retail business model, i.e. the rent is too damn high. Storefronts languishing empty should eventually lead to a correction.

    • You don’t even need to go as far as Europe for successful models. Burlington, Vermont is a splendid example of a vibrant downtown. This is thanks to Mayor Bernie Sanders who rallied the business, civic and government officials to transform Burlington’s Church Street into a pedestrian shopping/dining mall and it is fabulous. Burlington’s waterfront is exceptional with a ferry boat to New York. I have encouraged our government reps to visit Burlington to see what Westport could be if it had the courage and the energy to become as vibrant as Burlington.

  10. Now have him count the ‘For Sale’ signs on houses – technology isn’t just decimating the retail space, it’s every space and the disconnect between real asset prices and equity prices tells the story. Now, real asset prices have marked higher but they are being passed between a smaller number of buyers. I saw the precursor firsthand: floor trading to HFT and that’s why I’m developing food security assets.

  11. David Loffredo

    Saugatuck has similar issues….Much of Charles Street from Saugatuck Ave to Riverside Ave is abandoned, and once the Tesla dealership is denied, the big retail space further up Saugatuck Ave will remain vacant.

    My kids shop almost exclusively online, and it seems like Amazon drops a package on our doorstep almost daily with everything from household goods to food.

    Personally I think there are too many retail spaces for 2017 regardless of how high (or not) the rent is.

    • Matthew Mandell

      David,
      There are a number of factors on Charles and its not because Saugatuck has issues. There is a waiting game going on – waiting for RR place to morph. There are also flood plain issues. So we are not seeing the same ills in Saugatuck as we are seeing elsewhere. That’s something to think about as we plan Saugatuck and work to ensure it stays vibrant.

      As to the rest of the town, e commerce is taking a toll, high rents are another. Landlords will wait and wait for the right price rather than fill and that creates this poor look. The free market might well correct this and maybe the mom and pops will come back to downtown. Everyone bemoans the fact of their loss, so maybe they come back. But in the meantime they are in Saugatuck and we can’t allow the fate that hit downtown to occur there.

      Matthew

      • David Loffredo

        Spot on, couple issues:

        1) The Blue Parrot has been closed for 4 years now. Thankfully someone finally mowed down the vegetation, but there’s plywood on the windows and while technically “vacant” it sure as hell looks “abandoned”. The empty bank next door is slightly better, as is the empty building across the street – but since Charles St is a gateway into Westport it’s a pretty sorry first impression. At least Luciano Field looks nice and you’re putting it to good use.

        2) The flood plain issues down there effect the ability to introduce residential space – that’s a problem – hopefully there’s a path thru it.

  12. Chip Stephens

    The right price will always fill an empty space. This the opportunity to get those local mom and pops if the price is right.
    Doesn’t matter the experiential experience, the shape the building is in or the economy Supply and demand is key and when factors like Amazon, supply glut, traffic, or age of the building if the price is right some business will come. As to what kind of business that is where landlords need to be forward thinking to new ideas like Mall owners with healthcare space, living space, you name the need malls are catering to it.
    Last comment to my friend Jeff G … if you shut down Main Street please give thought to where traffic will flow, as an established new England town there is little arterial flow for the traffic, Parker Harding and Myrtle Ave can’t be the alternate for traffic if Main is closed.

  13. The sky is falling…..not…..
    Westport is one of a handful of “Pilot” retail communities in the US. This means that current and new stores will often choose Westport to pilot new retail concepts. So we should expect higher than normal turnover. With regards to online versus storefront, many of the Westport stores are using the physical location to drive online sales at a later date. Shop, view, then order online.

    The economics of supply and demand for property availability will equalize over the long term. It may be that property owners are not yet ready to adjust their rents downward to attract more diverse stores. Over time, if they can’t fill them up with the national “Pilot” chains, rents will adjust as required to fill them up with local store owners. This is a natural ebb and flow in commercial real estate. The sky is not falling, it is just in transition. Westport remains the most attractive combination of schools, retail, leisure, and town services of any community in CT.

    And by the way, using a term like “abandoned” is highly inaccurate. They may not be rented, but they are far from abandoned.

    • David A. Waldman

      You beat me too it. Well said

    • Interesting post, Thad.

      What “pilot” stores launched and closed in Westport recently? Are there many pilots going on now?

      Which are the “many of the Westport stores are using the physical location to drive online sales at a later date”? – Chris Woods

  14. David A. Waldman

    Yes. New shinny spaces can make old spaces go empty. That said, smart Landlords will improve there properties and find new tenants.

    Yes. The internet is taking large bites out of the retail bricks and mortar world but at the same time, the internet is opening stores (bonobos, Amazon Books). Any more will follow.

    Yes. Rents in and around downtown are high and as a result make it more difficult for mom and pops to survive.

    Yes. The world is changing and you either we change with it or we get left behind.

    So, that was a lot of yes. Let’s see what the no colume has to offer

    No. Our downtown will not cease to exist. Like all businesses, there are cycles of ups and downs and sometimes that can be very disruptive. That said, as old concepts and practices die, new ones take their place.

    No. While it is true more people are shopping on line, foot traffic in great downtowns like are’s are on the rise. Millenials are wanting to be part of the social aspect of shopping. They want to hang out, grab lunch, shop and be social. When we build great places for that to happen, they come

    No. Retail is not dead, it is just adjusting to this new world. Mom and pops are still opening storefront (M-Eat, Savanna Bee, Lucy’s, Rye Ridge Deli, West, jesup Hall, Aux Delice, Swoon)and entertainment oriented uses (restaurants, cultural, educational) and other experiential retail (Anthro & Co., Terrain, Green, Fred’s) are driving this increased foot traffic and providing a reason to not shop online and go downtown.

    No. We do not need any more new retail. What we need to do is manage what we have, re-purpose what we can and when given the opportunity, change uses to ones which help a downtown remain relevant (residential development). When more people live downtown and can walk downtown our Downtown will begin to feel like to did.

    No. Rents are high because sales in those stores downtown were strong. If they continue to weaken rents will follow. However, while David’s teas left, within a month Marine Layer opened up. Our beloved Oscar’s closed and Rye Ridge Deli will open in a few short months, the Y moved and Anthro & Co along with Ami’s opened up.

    No. We are not a town that will fall by the side as the world passes us by. We are a town of great people with great minds. Our government is proactive and working hard to improve the downtown parking, maintenance and the pesdestiran experience. The WDMA and Chamber are active in bringing “events” downtown. If we continue to maintain and improve our infrastructure and continue to evolve as the world directs, then we will continue to be the best town in Connecticut.

    And now really lastly, go downtown and SHOP, EAT and ENJOY

    • Matthew Mandell

      Right. Shop Downtown. Shop the Post Road, Shop Saugatuck. Keep it local and we all benefit.

  15. Rozanne Gates

    Westport need look no further than Burlington, Vermont for an example of how to create a thriving, attractive, fun, successful downtown. The waterfront is gorgeous and fun, it is fun to shop in the Church Street Marketplace, it is fun to eat on Church Street, Burlington is one cool town and Mayor Bernie Sanders made it happen when he was serving in that position. He partnered business and government to create the best small town in America. Hint to candidates for First Selectman – take a road trip to Burlington and come back and clone it here in Westport. You will win.
    https://goo.gl/maps/Us5zi3M8hK92

    • Peter Flatow

      Having grown up in Vermont and with family in Burlington I totally agree with you. Church Street is a favorite and there are lots of other well positioned areas that make the most of the lake. We have the river and as others have mentioned gets little attention. We have lived here since the mid 80s and lots of talk, little action other than escalating rents and loss of locally owned stores. Lots of wonderful benefits in Westport but we shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Depressed home values and empty commercial space should not be ignored.

      • Rozanne Gates

        Thank you Peter Flatow for acknowledging the attraction and success of Burlington, Vermont.

    • 90% of the vibrancy you talk about on Burlington is from college students and residents who couldn’t come close to affording the cost of living in Westport. COL in VT is completely different, as is quality of life in general.

      Generally, suburbs are dying because the reason people went to live there (here) was because of the sense of community, knowing and interacting on a local basis with neighbors who had time to spend with each other and who mixed with the local teachers, police and in-town workers.

      That sense of community is totally gone. People do not even know their immediate neighbors, are plugged-in rather than outgoing and overscheduled past caring about neighbors. Go into any place, the Y, Starbucks, a restaurant and the most common activity is being on the phone.

      The benefits of a small town are no longer. And I don’t think retail will make up for it. Towns just to the north and west of is are cratering, having over-priced everything. And if you think high end retail is bad in Westport, check out Madison Avenue http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com/social-diary/2017/walking-the-avenue

      We are in a huge transition where shopping is done on Amazon, window-shopping on Instagram and community on Facebook. And I think we’ve just started. – Chris Woods

  16. Cornelia Fortier

    I always feel there aren’t enough places to eat downtown to draw people. A great meal, followed by some strolling & shopping seems like a natural. Lots of office space seems to be empty too. Converting some to housing would be great — there are offices on Riverside that would have wonderful water views and living downtown would be fun and convenient too.

    • Rozanne Gates

      Like I mentioned – we need look no further than Burlington, Vermont as the town to simulate.
      https://goo.gl/maps/Us5zi3M8hK92

    • Robert Mitchell

      I agree about eating. I went to Ridgefield on a recent Friday evening, and the main street was full of life – people strolling, shopping, and eating in the many restaurants that open onto the sidewalk. Granted their main street is wider than our Main Street, but something similar could be done to prevent our downtown closing down in the evening.

    • From the Post Road and Myrtle: Finalmente, Jeera Thai, Westport Pizzeria, Jesup Hall, Rothbard Ale + Larder, Matsu Sushi, Amis, Spotted Horse, Villa del Sol, Boca, Tavern on Main. Just across the river: The ‘Port, Arrezzo, Bartaco — and I’m sure I’m missing some.

      • David A. Waldman

        Winfield Deli, Dapiatro’s, Aux Delice, pink sumo, green & tonic, la penguin, rye ridge deli (soon) FRESHI, Starbucks

      • Tracy Flood

        I hear you, Dan, but it still feels like there is no where to eat downtown! What can I say? Many of them are either small, or have a limited menu… Spotted Horse is an exception.

  17. Shannon McAvoy

    I shopped downtown when there were more locally owned “mom & pop” stores. Now I avoid it. It looks like an outdoor mall and I hate malls.

    I love the idea of closing main for an outdoor walking experience. I would also close Parker Harding and make that a park-like setting to enjoy the river. The problem is the parking. If they make the Baldwin lot (Elm Street) a double deck lot it would create parking to be able to enjoy both.

    Before people riot against a parking structure, there are ways to make a parking garage that isn’t a) an eyesore, or b) grossly unusable. It could actually benefit our town by accommodating solar and living surfaces.

    The downtown plan incorporates some great ideas. I’m just a resident but it seems to me too much is given away to politics instead of common sense items (like parking lots over people friendly parks). Imagine Extending the river walk to encompass more of downtown. or moving our farmers market or the annual craft fair along the river. If we make the area a nice destination (and perhaps have lower rents for local businesses) maybe both national retail and mom and pops can thrive.

  18. Susan Iseman

    Movie Theater, anyone? A small, first rate cinema complex screening quality films can also provide an education component for aspiring film students ( and we have many who were hatched here, I believe). It would be an asset, in my most humble opinion. I realize many homeowners have home theaters and streaming capabilities these days, but viewing a film on the big screen is thrilling. Ridgefield has a wonderful example of what can be done. The Prospector theater is a state of the art movie house that employs a joyful staff of young adults with disabilities, and run as a non profit 501c3. Even if you didnt enjoy the movie, you always manage to leave with a big smile there. Westport misses having a movie house!

  19. Jamie Lissette

    The US has 23.5 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in Australia, the next two countries with the most retail space per capita, according to a Morningstar Credit Ratings report from October

    • Nancy Hunter

      Fewer fast food restaurants and smaller grocery stores (i.e. fewer junk food aisles) perhaps.

  20. Bart Shuldman

    Nike moved out. There goes a major retailer. I would guess in the world of renting that raises a big concern. But it should provide a market that can attract the non-nationals if this trend continues. Let’s see what happens. Right now the retail sector is getting more and more scared by Amazon.

    I only hope for a succesful market for Westport. We need it as we watch a state budget that eliminates any payments to Westport.

    A report I just read shows we get $.02 back from Hartford for every dollar Westporters send. We will need our commercial properties to be vibrant.

    Let’s see.

  21. Elisabeth Keane

    Burlington, VT, is wonderful and Campbell, CA, is terrific.

  22. Why isn’t Anazon subject to anti-trust laws for real-time, dynamic price fixing using algorithms, data centers and vast computing power no one else possesses?

    This has gutted the small retailers and now apparently is hitting the big ones too, and we all increasingly bow to a single retail God. Do we really want to spend Saturday evenings watching Amazon drones delivering take-out?

    Why is the only response to unfair competition through the use of technology to say the victims need to “adapt?” Maybe our anti-trust laws need to adapt. Perhaps Amazon needs to pay a portion of its profits to the local retailers it steals business from through digital monopoly practices.

  23. What Chris Woods said.

  24. Mary Papageorge

    David I agree with you but Main Street is not the same!! So maybe closing off Main Street wouldn’t be a bad idea…Oscar’s was probable the last of the mom and pop’s stores! 😦 😦 Miss you Oscar’s (and my husband)..:(

  25. There are tier levels. Let’s call Mom and Pop
    Tier 1. What Westport has now on main street
    is the highest level 5…the most expensive:
    It is an outdoor mall and few majors want
    to pay that rent so you can forget about
    Mom and Pop. Unfortunately that ship has
    sailed. Westport was a super attractive location
    then New Yorkers found out about “us” and
    it drove retail prices up as has been mentioned
    by others. It appears landlords will wait and
    let a store go vacant for months or longer
    to get the rent and lease $ they want. They
    don’t care how it looks. Oscars gone.
    Marios gone. The YMCA gone.
    Etc etc etc. Too many
    vacancies is a huge red flag and does not
    look good nor a place where people want
    to shop and be. Its not vibrantn anymore.
    There is no luster. Westport outpriced itself
    and the price correction in home values
    will be next so Westport is in deep “doodoo”
    right now.
    The shopping cente where the Carosel used
    to be I heard was going to turn to condos.
    City hall which used to be my elem school
    is sitting on valuable property. Let’s see
    how long they last. Lower rents? Sure maybe
    a little bit but don’t expect anything
    major. My Westport that I grew up with
    only exists on the back roads. The shopping
    area and post road mainstreet is in huge
    trouble.
    Mark Gontar