Ann Taylor And Allen Edmonds Leaving Main Street. Tumbleweeds Next?

Yesterday, Nike handed over the keys to their Main Street store landlord.

This summer, Ann Taylor and Allen Edmonds follow.

That will leave 3 empty stores out of 4 in a row — smack in the middle of downtown.

Skip Lane — retail director for Cushman & Wakefield, the leasing brokers — minces no words.

“It’s a scary time for retail,” the Westport native and Staples High School graduate says. “Nobody knows where this will end.”

Nike has vacated 5,600 square feet of space. Ann Taylor leases 4,000 square feet; Allen Edmonds, 2,000.

The Nike store on Main Street is now closed.

That will be dwarfed when the GGP Mall opens off I-95 Exit 15 in Norwalk. It’s huge — and, Lane says, the only enclosed mall under construction in the entire country.

“It can kill street retail,” he predicts. “Rents will be lower, and foot traffic will be higher.”

Rents for stores like Nike are now in the $130 per square foot range, Lane says. Recent deals, he notes, are around $80 to $90.

Right now, there are 20 or so vacancies in downtown Westport. Lane worries the number will climb.

“I’m a cheerleader for the town,” he says. “But a few more hits, and it will be tumbleweeds down there.”

He offers a partial solution: “Stop using Amazon. Support your retailers. Shop local!”

In 1962 — and long after — Main Street was a vibrant shopping destination. Many stores were locally owned.

99 responses to “Ann Taylor And Allen Edmonds Leaving Main Street. Tumbleweeds Next?

  1. Jonathan Berg

    Maybe the rent is just too damn high

    • My thoughts exactly! The stores have to charge more for their merchandise because their rent is sky high and after all, they have to make a profit. Don’t blame us for shopping at Amazon, blame the landlords for sucking these poor local shops dry!

      • Annette Norton

        I am sorry, but as a small business store owner on Main Street, I respectfully disagree. I marked my merchandise comparable to online, gave away free gift wrap and beautiful reusable bags(When you take that all into the equation, I am arguably less) I opened in September of last year on Main Street. I come from a retail background and can compare my sales here in Westport to other towns. I too thought that Westport wanted small locally owned shops, and some do. However Amazon deliveries on Westport were up 54% the month of December. In towns that are not as prestigious supported their local shops with greater enthusiasm. The landlords are seeing the decline in retail, and are making accommodations. The stores are leaving because people are choosing to shop on line. That is the real issue, not the rent.

  2. Catherine Barrett

    Just a thought but… Skip, perhaps the rents are too high. 30yrs ago Westport was filled with diverse small stores until the rents went up so much they were pushed out by big retailers. If you want shoppers to return make it affordable for retailers to return.

    • Phil Symonette

      Great point Catherine. That is exactly where my mind went. A recipe for failure is to hope people will listen and stop shopping on Amazon. That is not going to happen. What is plausible is to have affordable rents so businesses can operate profitably with reasonable prices. At the end of the day Main St is convenient but the price/value equation must worth it!

    • Bobbi Essagof

      Agree with Catherine. There is almost nothing I want or need that can be found on Main Street. Makes me so sad but maybe the focus should be on bringing places people need to go!

  3. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-26/saving-main-street-with-zoning

    This was my first holiday season in 20 years that I didn’t step once onto Main Street. Seems most of what Main Street offers is easier and cheaper to buy online. – Chris Woods

  4. What about rents being lowered? Is that even realistic? Seems like this never ending problem that rents are too high and don’t allow independent (or even less corporate retail) businesses to set up shop on Main Street. And so you end up with essentially an outdoor mall filled with way too many stores that are not connected to the town and don’t offer anything particularly compelling. We’ll likely get another bank or nail salon to open which will lead to zero more customers on a Main Street. And those retail stores that do open will find better luck in a mall. I know the Westport Downtown Merchants Association is doing their best to make Main Street a place that people come to more regularly. But just opening stores isn’t going to solve for it. What about better restaurant options? Some stores open later to align with early dinner reservations? Maybe (eek!) some sort of good wine bar or beer garden? We need to think creatively to have Main Street be a place people go to, not a ghost town.

    • I recall sitting in a P&Z meeting a dozen years ago with the Long Range Planning Committee and having the P&Z chairwoman look incredulous at the idea of more specific commercial zoning, saying, “What’s wrong with banks?” – Chris Woods

  5. Jens Buettner

    He offers a partial solution: “Stop using Amazon. Support your retailers. Shop local!”

    This is homemade, so don’t put the blame on Amazon alone.
    The rents are far to high in this town, which local retailer can effort this?
    Just add electricity, insurance, sales personal and merchandise, it’s not worth having a store in Westport.

  6. The Landlords are now paying the price for being short term thinkers. The fixed costs to operate a store on Main St. are so high that it is difficult for the owners to make a profit. The marketplace will even out the rents by forcing rents down or sales of real estate at huge discounts. The banks will probably end up owning many of the properties.

  7. It is scary as the town has allowed the rents to skyrocket, ask a small business like ours where we don’t have the deep pockets like the big retail chains to survive. Our only hope for survivial is the quality of our product and support from our local community.

    • How exactly has “the town allowed the rents to skyrocket” – is there some commercial rent control law the town should have been using?

      Commercial rents are market-driven, and the market looks to be driving the rents down to that price point where commercial spaces will be filled. But there is always a lag when the market suggests adjusting commercial rents downward, for a number of reasons . . . . this isn’t a Westport problem, the internet is hitting bricks and mortar retailers across the land hard, for a number of years now. On the bright side, re-setting the going rate for space on Main St will (eventually) allow for more mom and pop stores . . .

      • Agree, with Jack for the most part, however many of the buildings on Main St were purchased at the top of the market and currently the going rents may not cover the the existing mortgage payments. I assume most of the buildings are leveraged to the hilt and if I am correct there will be some fire sales going on and it maybe doubtful the sale price will cover the encumbrance on the property. The new SoNo Mall will be a game changer for the areas retail trade.

        • I agree would it be funny if all of the big “Mall Stores” stayed in the mall and made way for more “Mom & Pop” or local business…and really we don’t need another restaurant!

        • Do you know any people who bought homes here in town in the 1980s? When residential property owners miscalculate, say for instance buying at the top of a market, with interest rates at or above 10% – it seems the damage is limited to the purchaser. They take the hit. But when Real Estate Investors miscalculate – the damage can impact a whole town.
          And for a very long time.

      • . . . is there some commercial rent control law the town should be using? C’mon Commissioner Whittle. Your readers here got very little information from your insult of this independent retailer. (The bit we did get had more to do with attitudes than it did about commercial real estate.)

        “Commercial rents are market-driven,” I’ve heard that before. A lot. But thinking about it now, it occurs to me that the term ‘market-driven’ is pretty much interchangeable with the term ‘to the highest bidder’. And if they mean pretty much the same thing, how come they smell so different?

        I also think it’s way too easy to use terms like ‘market-driven’ – ‘the market suggests’ – and ‘the market looks to be’ – as a cloak. It just makes it way too easy for individuals to absolve themselves of personal responsibility, and in this case, accountability to their community. It’s up to the property owner or company to negotiate and set rents. New tenants don’t sign their leases with ‘the market,’ they reach an agreement with another person.

        Sorry if this sounds a little pointed, but it’s irritating and frustrating when too often writers choose to malign other people involved in this complicated issue, rather than contribute meaningful suggestions.

  8. This paragraph was inadvertently omitted while I was editing the story. I’ve added it in above:

    “Rents for stores like Nike are now in the $130 per square foot range, Lane says. Recent deals, he notes, are around $80 to $90.”

  9. Gil Ghitelman

    I think all of us would love to see more mom and pop stores in Westport and that’s possible if the moms and pops had rich parents to back them. Only chain stores could afford to move in and even they are feeling the pain of online shopping. Of course a huge Apple store would be welcome.

  10. I recently had to do some shopping in downtown New Canaan and was amazed at how many local retailers they have that are thriving- yes there are some corporate stores as well, but it is an enjoyable place to shop, eat, walk, etc. Westport has become almost entirely mall-grade, with little charm and no reason to frequent when you can often get the exact same thing online for cheaper with a coupon code, and without horrendous parking issues. Even Darien, with a smaller downtown area, has a great mix of local and corporate shops (Kirby & Co, the Sport Shop, etc). What has happened to downtown Westport? Greenwich can support their high rents because of its relative location as a destination for Westchester shoppers, and its sheer size. The mall will be the nail in the coffin.

  11. What happened to the movie theatre idea?

  12. Any independent bookstores? Or, a children’s bookstore that draws author readings, illustrators?

  13. Valerie Ann Leff

    Main Street Westport needs to be more than a chance to consume mall goods. Where is the independent bookstore, the movie theater? Where are the cafes, unique clothing stores, art and fine craft galleries, ethnic restaurants, all of those wonderful, soul-filling businesses that give a town an identity and a reason to be there?

    • Exactly. Back to basics: a butcher, a baker, a fromagerie, and an exceptional wine shop — all situated near the bookshops and theatre…

  14. It seems that the property owners have a choice — either lower the rents to an affordable level, or have years of an empty store producing no income hoping that someone will rent it.

  15. Perhaps the rents are too high. Big name retailers are being forced out. It’s not amazon. It’s the cost of locating on Main Street cannot justify the cost vs revenues per storefront.

    I would much prefer to shop in Westport than at a mall in Norwalk.

  16. As a local small retailer, I live this. I have seen a lot of changes. We are all challenged. The biggest game changer is the new consumer. Every year that there is a college graduating class, that consumer is all digital. He doesn’t want to be bothered with a store, talking to people, etc. It’s vemo, apple pay. Durable goods, food and beverages are all at their rented Avalon apartment with vibrant shops below. These young educated consumers see no reason to waste 30k a year in property taxes other then for a maybe 10-12 year period to educate their kids. It’s a new economy. The lifestyle of the Westporter has also changed. Many parents simply don’t have time to shop on weekends. Travel Sports take up most weekends. When there are 4 day weekends, our town empties out. Be it skiing or sun, it’s a mobile affluent community. The new economy fits the busy lifestyle. The fact we also live in a “non pro business” state doesn’t help either. The answer to downtown depends on having a reason to go and have an experience.

  17. David Waldman

    Sadly it seems you are all missing the point. Landlord’s did not raise rents on Main Street. Throughout the last 20 years, rents rose due to more demand from Tenants to occupy vacant space. Spaces had multiple Tenants bidding the rent up which lead a record deal being done in 2006 at close to $165 per foot. Fast forward 10 years and you have a staggering number of factors affecting the health and well being of the retail industry, all colliding at the same time. Competition is fierce on all front (bricks and mortar, internet, globally) and shipping is easy and free in most instances. To survive today retailers need to be creative in their approach and presentation and create more “experiential” stores. In my opinion, Nike (which was paying $85 per foot, not $130 so rent should not have been the issue), failed because they opened the wrong Nike store, both in size and concept. If they had opened an “experiential” Nike store, offering a full line of Nike products and incorporating new technology and in store programing, they would have had a far better chance for success.

    The internet made our world very small and created a path to the consumer that is vastly different then it was 20 years ago, and while the playing field seems to change more quickly then one could have ever imagined, so do the opportunities that arise out of that change. The headlines in 2017 focused only on the 10,000 stores that closed, instead of the 14,000 that opened. New creative concepts, which had once only been on line, started to open brick and mortar stores. Names like Warby Parker, Toms, Rejuvenation, Serena & Lily, Bonobos, Apple, Microsoft, Untuckit, Net Porter began to populate the vacancies left by prior retailers. With smaller required footprints (and therefore far less fixed overhead) a new formula for success emerged. Todays retailers have to implement a multi channel approach, which, in my opinion, is the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Downtown is not dead nor do I see it dying anytime soon. What I do see is the landscape changing and Westport, as it has in the past, will change with it. The mall will not kill downtown and if it is really successful, it could even help.

    Lastly, I agree. We could use a movie theater like the one proposed by the WCI. I’ll take this opportunity to ask any of the readers to please drop off a check for $4.5MM needed to build the theater and we will get right on it (that check of course comes with full naming rights!)

    • Supply and demand are basic social science. So as you suggested demand drove up the rent prices demand will drive them down. Ps I don’t have an extra million but would love to see a theatre again (at least one)

    • Jennie Pickering

      wasn’t the intention to build something new within the old Y development?
      We are not there yet with the new incarnation of retail, if it will even be called that…

      Until then, you can allow pop-up shops, events etc in the vacant spaces …
      and dream of Soup’s On, Atticus Books, Remarkable Books, etc etc which were so well loved because of the relationships they built with their customers….
      remember when Atticus was a new concept?

      there is an onslaught of building that seems to disregard the crumbling vacancies all around …The movie theatres closed because home movies were desirable and easy…people want to come together and have relationships …
      need to be creative and keep reality within our sights …

      • Jennie Pickering

        BTW- *Tumbleweeds* is a great new shop name – will be where the teenage kids hang out and play competitive video games, in the back they can do paintball (y’know, how Arnie’s had that back room ..)
        xoxo

    • Thanks for the lesson Mr. Waldman. Many people in town are aware of and appreciate your stewardship of commercial property here in Westport. You certainly have a complete mastery of the local commercial real estate market, cost per square foot and all, as well as a firm grasp on all the challenges faced by your tenants – our retailers. I learned a lot, but I still have a few questions. Can you share with us what the differences are in rent, here in Westport, compared with the rents paid by retailers in Darien, Greenwich, Ridgefield, Fairfield, Wilton & New Canaan? And how do the occupancy, and length of vacancy rates compare? Do tenants share their business plans with you for review and approval? Do they know about your new formula for success? Other than a non-compete for similar stores within a certain distance of one and other, do you deny applicants rental space because their idea is bad? You are also really on to something in your amusing closing paragraph about mobilizing readers to fund a movie theater. In Fairfield, locals have created an organization to try and save The Community Theater. (I read a certain smugness into the way you chose to phrase that sentence. Don’t know whether it was intended.) The six towns I mentioned above all have movie theaters. Fairfield is the only one not currently showing movies, but the regular events at FTC probably make up for it to the benefit the restaurants and retailers in the area. Here’s another idea, maybe we can add a small tax on purchases made at any of the THREE locations that displaced the FIVE movie theaters that were already in Westport when (coincidentally) you opened your business here in 1991. And lastly, I hope you’ll find the time to write an equally informative lesson regarding vacant office real estate here in Westport very soon. Thanks again.

      • Bart Shuldman

        If a customer does not want a product then the store will not sell it. Blaming the landlord for bad products is comical at best.

        Are you saying drop the rent by half and that would make a store successful? The labor and expense of running a store has nothing to do with the overall costs?

        Just look at those store that can sell. It’s the product. Try that first.

        • Mr. S. – Are you a ventriloquist by trade? Or is it just a hobby? Dude, I laid no blame, said nothing about dropping anything, and came to no conclusions about overall costs. Just grateful for the knowledge passed along by a successful businessman.

      • David Waldman

        Thanks for the questions Scott. I was not trying to coming off as a know it all, only to put facts to the conversation. I will put together the answers to your questions and get back to you. As for reading “smugness” into my comment above about the WCI, I am impressed. Not because you are correct but more because you could sense their was a back story. I have been involved with the WCI from the beginning. My family provided early funding to help get the WCI off the ground and I, along with many other volunteers and donors, have kept it alive, tirelessly working to bring an art and education based cinema to our downtown. I did this because I understood then, as I do now, that “programed events” in our downtown are the only way it will remain successful and thrive in the future. That is why I have been involved with the Westport Downtown Merchants Association for over 20 years, the WCI and the Chamber of Commerce. All of these organizations put on fantastic events which draw people to our wonderful town.

        So, what you picked up on in my comment earlier was frustration, not smugness. Frustration that we (the WDMA and the WCI) only have so many resources to do and create great events, shows, ambiance etc. and without the financial help from outside forces (the town, individuals, corporations) we are having trouble keeping up. Frustration because while I have been developing in Westport for the last quarter century and been promoting this need, it is only recently that momentum from a higher level has begun, You mentioned New Canaan, Darien, Ridgefield and Wilton (no downtown so not really part of this conversation). Yes, they all have great restaurant’s, mom and pop shops mixed with nationals, and they all have a theater. That said, they still either lack the critical mass or scenic quality that Westport is blessed with. We have numerous award wining restaurants, forward thinking national and local shops all displayed in attractive, historic New England town, flacked by a river, one of the best libraries in the country, the Westport Country Playhouse and Levitt Pavilion. With the internet chipping away at the foot traffic, malls popping up around the corner, traffic which makes us think twice about going downtown….. What is a town to do???

        I don’t claim to have all the answers but I have put my time and money where my mouth is and I am confident the outcome will surpass even my expectations. Once our community understands how important our downtown is to for our Town’s health and identity, only then can we make real change. An educational based cinema, like the one proposed by the WCI, is different that what you will find in New Canaan or Dairen. (FYI, New Canaan’s theater and building is owned by the town and loses money yearly) It is not enough to just go to the movies. We want you to make the movies, to speak and interact with the directors, the actors, or writers. We want our talented children to screen their movies and projects in OUR TOWNS cinema. The opportunity for culture and education to combine in our downtown is where all the magic will be made. I have been pushing for years to get the WCI off the ground, but this not my only focus. I am also working hard to try and obtain funding for a state of the art STEM center,run by the board of Ed, which could act as a magnate school for underprivileged children and provide access for local business men and women to mentor our youths growing minds. I can see the most cutting edge equipment and computers, 3D printers, robotics and a collaborative and safe environment to invent, innovate and change the world. An interactive way of learning all within walking distance of our downtown. Big cities can get help when a University moves in( think Stamford and Hartford) but small towns have to think outside the box. A state of the art STEM center would be a incredible draw for downtown and a huge asset to all of its residents and visitors. Tack on the cinema, and Westport remains untouchable. (I still want to push to get the famers market downtown as well as the Westport Art’s Center).

        So, now with the STEM center added to the WCI, we need a mere $20,000,000 to make it happen.

        • Doesn’t the Library already offer these programs?

        • Wow David. That’s quite an answer. I hope you don’t think I’m trying to be adversarial, we both want the same thing, although one difference would be that I don’t have tens of millions of dollars involved.

          Why be dismissive of neighboring towns out-of-hand the way you were, instead of learning from them? C’mon man, Main Street in Ridgefield is considered one of the nicest in the country. And if the Town of Darien works the operating costs of the Cinema into the Town budget so the community continues to have a movie theatre, well – that’s one thing for a town to do.

          Thinking about your larger vision – including a technology-based magnet school, and, an art and education based cinema with “programmed events” – it occurs to me a seismic opportunity was missed by not incorporating these great ideas with the Transformation Project at the Library. And there were years to do so. Some of the earlier, costlier plans for the Library included a spaces that would have been perfect for the WCI. As for the STEM center or school you envision, I reread that several times and kept visualizing the plans for the new Maker Space(s) at the library.

          “We want our talented children to screen their movies and projects in OUR TOWNS cinema.” I guess The Sundance Festival started small. But I bet most people would be happy to start with dinner and a movie downtown.

          “The opportunity for culture and education to combine in our downtown is where all the magic will be made.” (Sounds like the Library again.)

          There is no disputing that you’ve put your time and money where your mouth is. We’re (you included) are just frustrated by the lack of results. Maybe you’re backing the wrong ideas? Even Nike makes mistakes.

          I just realized something very important would have been missing if your great ideas had been incorporated with the Transformation of The Library –
          rents. Oops.

          I hope you still plan on providing the answers to my questions last week. Will you post them here? Or on your company website? Thanks again.

        • With all the challenges downtown, I’m glad you include your vision of what it could be. I love your idea of a STEM center — and have long been a supporter of WCI — but hope you will broaden the concept to STEAM (with the arts as an integral part…https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/leaders-link/importance-of-arts-in-steam-education/ Hopefully the Library’s Transformation will prove to be the catalyst for combining all of our dreams for (and memories of) the Westport we grew up in…

  18. David Mark Brown

    NIKE closing and Ann Taylor along with Allen Edmonds soon to follow? Obviously there’s no time like the present to straightaway implement the BartonPartners Saugatuck Gateway Plan. It’s about time that we in Saugatuck regain our rightful place as the dominant commercial center in the area that those ‘up-river’ Main Street upstarts and snobs snatched from us at the end of the 19th century.
    Yes, for sure, the townsfolk at the recent SAUGATUCK TOD meetings were certainly agitated. Torches and pitchforks were clearly evident against BartonPartners. I remain gob smacked at their degree of outright meanness. Just because BartonPartners has yet to achieve the perfect result, there is no need to persecute these poor consultants. With Westport’s Main Street retailers in retreat, we should praise BartonPartners.

    And here’s some thoughts to consider:
    First, the BartonPartners Saugatuck Gateway mixed-use commercial buildings concept is brilliant and brings back memories of one of my favourite rite-of-passage places –the Atlantic City Promenade of the 1980s –which also featured ‘mixed use buildings, small storefronts, traditional architecture and 2 ½ to 3 ½ story buildings.’
    Second, the BartonPartners Saugatuck Gateway residential buildings concept offers an innovative –and allow me to again use their words –‘street experience offering street trees, pedestrian lighting, and sidewalks.’
    Third, the BartonPartners’ town-within-a-town residential concept is innovative and unique. Imagine, if you will, the town of Seahaven from the 1998 hit film ‘The Truman Show’ plopped down in the center of dreary Old Saugatuck.

    Just envision, tired Old Saugatuck transformed with the spectacle of crowds of new residents and I-95 shoppers ambling happily along all our new Saugatuck sidewalks, stopping occasionally to press their curious faces against the windows of all our new shops. It goes without saying that –finally –now’s the time to get rid of that pesky old Cribari Bridge that’s causing all those traffic problems and congestion. We should all thank BartonPartners for bringing this to light. Who knew?

    One challenge will be the securing of several tons of concrete for the parking decks and all those sidewalks along with multiple container loads of sheetrock. And before anyone in Old Saugatuck or Westport gets uppity, allow me to inform you that sheetrock is an historic material invented by the U.S. Gypsum Company in 1917. That’s like a hundred years ago! So there.

    The Saugatuck Gateway development –and the accompanying conspicuous consumption –could even be the State’s tipping point and vault #44 Connecticut past Mississippi to that coveted #43 spot in growth. And thinking of this, allow me a few final suggestions: Could BartonPartners add a Cracker Barrel restaurant [love their cornbread!] and a video game parlor like the one at South of the Border? I have such fond childhood memories of family vacations to Myrtle Beach from East Tennessee. We most always would stop off at South of the Border –coincidently also off I-95.

    • Werner Liepolt

      With the repeal of CT’s antiquated fireworks law we could center the TOD rebirth of Saugatuck on a twenty-four/seven fireworks emporium. Nothing draws like fireworks.

    • Bill Boyd (Staples '66)

      Cracker Barrel ? Atlantic City? South of the Border? I just don’t share your enthusiasm.

  19. “Local retailers” aren’t local at all. They are national brand stores and Main Street is an outdoor mall. Westport made its bed and now they will have to sleep in it. When I was a kid all the stores on Main St. were local and as I recall only Gristedes Market was not a local owner.
    Westport lost a lot of its small town charm as landlords hit gold with national brand stores but maybe now the market will change and go back to local owners that would be worth supporting.

  20. Connecticut has been losing population for three straight years. That is a reality retailers must face. Connection has been called “The incredible shrinking state.” Building new stores while the customer base is decling seems like a losing proposition.

  21. When we were kids growing up in town we used to go to the YMCA everyday after school. We would shoot pool or play basketball. All the parents would be downtown to pick up their kids and would shop. On weekends we would go to the fine arts and see a movie and then go to The Pub or Ships lantern for something to eat. We had Schaffers sporting goods, Kleins, The Remarkable book store and a lot of really cool stores.We need to bring that atmosphere back !!!!!!!!

  22. Bart Shuldman

    It’s not the rents-it’s the product. If a store offers products that customers want, then the store will be busy selling. If they don’t, they close. Nike is a great example of offering product most did not want.

    Athleta is a great example of selling products people want. The store in westport is one of the most successful for the chain. Too bad they only offer woman’s clothing.

    Retail is a tough business but those that offer product the customer wants, follows the trends and differentiates, combines it with service, will win. I would much rather shop on Main Street then in a mall. Hoping Apple comes to Westport so I can avoid the mall or Greenwich.

  23. Becky Ruthven

    As a former shop owner forced out of the downtown, you real estate moguls have been far too greedy. You and other lessors
    need to lower your rents and offer creative incentives to keep businesses in the heart of our town. You get no sympathy from me. Norwalk is going to kill us if you don’t…Probably will anyway.

  24. As a small business owner, it saddens me to see all the Mom & Pop’s disappearing. What happened to the five and dime? The Milk Shake Shop? The BOOKSTORE? Wouldn’t it be a greater adventure to experience a little or a lot of both? Why not mix it up? It can actually be beneficial – Malls…bah humbug! Really? Malls are the answer – growing up in New Jersey it would be an insult to be called “a mall rat”! YIKES. An article dated 1/29/18 in Bloomberg Business Week named “Small Business Saving Main Street” – notifies that Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop supports small business. He does this by implementing a zoning ordinance “that prevents formula businesses- city jargon for chains with standardized stores such as Starbucks Corp and Target Corp – from occupying more than 30 percent of the ground floor of commercial areas of buildings” – all in the hopes of preventing the small business owners from getting “squeezed out”. It is WORKING! Imagine? San Francisco – advised by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) – is the “biggest U.S. city with a formula ordinance”. San Francisco has the most independent businesses and less chain stores per capita than any other big city! Who doesn’t like to shop in San Francisco? Creative, interesting, intellectually stimulating, to say the least. How’s that for “experiential”?

    • Agreed. But Westport is a town, not a city where a reservation at the top of the Mark is an issue.

  25. There Mom and pop stores savey and grace and port and Spotted horse and brownstone Joe’s pizza we also all the stores were Joe’s pizza is and we’re the French place is westport pizza the eyeglasse place there are some Mom and pop stores near westport pizza on post road downtown

  26. Bill Boyd (Staples '66)

    A lot of good comments here. Changes in our shopping habits..the online thing..so many variables…in my day we did go to the ymca after school and there were far fewer choices. How does one instill a sense of loyalty to local merchants in 2018? I think movie theatres are a dying breed….maybe go back to the old model…local specialty shops….cheeses… bakery..delicatessen… I think food draws people… Give people an experience… Create a public space…a place to sit….people watch…a reason to go downtown.

  27. Those are mall stores originally and never belonged on main. If only Westport could incentivize mom and pop shops to come back.
    Oh gosh I know!
    Lower those property taxes. Bring down the rents.
    No. Westport today is too greedy. They would never ever sacrifice equity.
    So like an old mill town let the tumbleweeds roll in. What a shame remembering the quaint charm of yesteryear.
    Go for it Skip
    So

  28. Just reading all your comments fellow westporters and you all said the same as I did. ☺️ I read a long time ago that this is a recurring problem across America. Even in NYC. Actually it was Bleecker Street that got invaded by the trendy high enders like Burberry was it, that have since vacated and left a once historically cool funky street filled with small thrift stores and record shops now empty and desolate. The greedy landlords can now not afford to back down. I don’t know the solution. Most of Sweden where I now live has been taken over by big box shops and malls or Centrum as they say. Seems most of USA has been over run by the the corporate retail monstors but can you imagine a quaint old fashioned town in Europe being overtaken like Bruegge or Yorkshire or St Tropez. .. Designate Old Town status perhaps?

  29. A lot of great comments. David is right. It is supply and demand. The key is the consumer. They will drive the retail market. The mindset of the consumer has changed. Whether you want to believe it or not each one of you commenting has changed your purchasing habits. You have more information, more choices right at your fingertips. Technology and your busy world has collided to give you information, choices, and far more options to purchase your goods and services then one has ever had in the past. Human equity as I can see is taking a back seat to convenience and price more today then ever in the mindset of the consumer. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

  30. Despite all this, the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee soldiers on with a meeting this morning.

    Today’s agenda includes proposals for several very expensive, taxpayer financed projects of dubious value – including the construction of an entire new road. Another involves cutting down trees, filling a swamp and adding more impervious surface – in a flood zone.

    The Downtown Plan was intended to address challenges from era that has passed. Isn’t it time to recalibrate?

    • Nope. It appears that instead of tapping the brakes, the town is doubling down. The Downtown Plan Implementation Committee, as of today, has a new member: the consultant we paid to develop the Downtown Plan.

  31. Lee De Monico

    Some interesting parallels…

  32. Look at other vibrant towns and follow the footprint…create an environment for people to go downtown….there is the river, Jesup green, the Levitt…the footprint is there, use it.
    Special events, music, beverages, sidewalk sales, farmers markets, specialty shops, atmosphere….both day and night.
    It takes time.
    One of my favorite towns:

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

      I am also familiar with Missoula and am really pleased to see this post. I was thinking the same thing when I read this yesterday but did not comment then. Missoula is a walkable downtown with interesting and unique shops, a river and things to do. This fall we were in Waynesville, North Carolina, another small town with small unique shops, walkable and interesting. With the talent Westport has I feel sure that a viable solution can be reached. To Morley’s point, beware of filling in swamps and paving in flood prone areas. I “speak” from just outside Houston, Texas where doing that very same thing created a disaster during Hurricane Harvey.

  33. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    In the end, we’re all in the same boat. You have to give the customer an experience that they can’t get anywhere else. IMO most of the great local businesses that have gone out of business in Westport lost the personality of the proprietors that made them special in most cases because there was no one else like them. Does anyone think that in a million years that Tip and Charlie Schaeffer would have lost out to Dick’s Sporting Goods? Or that Dan Coughlin would have lost out to Golf Galaxy? Look at Mitchells for example. They not only have held their own in Westport they are acquiring other retailers often located thousands of miles from Westport. They never lost the “mojo” that made them special, primarily due to the character and community vales that Ed instilled in Bill and Jack. They also never needed “quality control” because quality is part of their DNA.

  34. Heather Hendrickson

    Hi Dan.

    I’m curious where you are getting this information from regarding Ann Taylor? I work at the store and I have not heard that we are closing from any internal source.

    Thanks.

    Heather

  35. I’m not sure if this is possible given so many different factors – the size of the spaces available, zoning, liability costs, etc., but it would be amazing if a 2 hour childcare membership business opened up there. You pay a yearly membership fee, submit all necessary health forms, and then you can make an advance reservation for up to 2 hours of childcare. There could be separate spaces for older and younger children, and a discount off each session if you bring back a receipt from the same day from a downtown restaurant or store (funded by the DMA?). AnotJust a thought.

  36. Huge miss not keeping the Y downtown and creating a Y, Sr. & teen center as a (nearby) magnet, then zoning to limit the # of “mall stores” that are now being made obsolescent by Amazon.

    As has been repeated above, Main St., as it is, is simply obsolete.

  37. Lauren de Bruijn

    I’ve just discovered Tarry Market in Port Chester. It would be amazing to get something like that here!!

  38. Morley Boyd’s comments are right on. The committee needs to adjust their thinking to reflect the comments made on this Blog. The tax payers are talking and the Committee should be listening. The heart of Westport is Main Street and the question is do we need a new heart or will a stent do. We really need to be thinking out of the box to solve this problem.

  39. Bill Boyd (Staples '66)

    That I can believe… ..the notion of being a part of a community where one SUPPORTS locally owned businesses seems to be disappearing everywhere…very sad (but an obvious consequence of corporate retail).

  40. Lower the rent so stores and restaurants can charge less. I know stores that moved to Norwalk .. if it’s a good store or restaurant or bar … people will drive there. All of my favorite restaurants are gone from Westport now. So .. I drive to Fairfield, Stratford, Milford & New Haven to go out. Oh, and yes, we’re Amazon Prime members so our shipping is free and quick. That will be impossible to beat.

  41. I’m not surprised with all the stores closures, rents have been skyrocketing for the last ten years and with rents rising faster than the amount customers were spending on products it was clearly unsustainable. We have had a record number of retailer bankruptcies this year and with ecommerce and Amazon, the deflationary death star…..consumers have dramatically changed their shopping habits…IMO we still have not bottomed out…. With GGP’s new mall in South Norwalk retailers will most likely not be making any long term plans to open new stores in Westport until till they figure out how to deal with Amazon and the new Mall.. But Westport is unique and with the Saugatuck river as a backdrop I can’t think of a more beautiful and more charming downtown in Connecticut. The market will eventually turn and long term Westport will be fine and will thrive on….it will be interesting to see what happens….

  42. What I buy on Amazon, is not putting anyone out of business..It’s the big box stores like Nike & Ann Taylor, who have put the Mom and Pops out of business and jacked up rents on main Street.
    I buy books on Amazon..but I still love and shop at book stores..The REAL ones, not Barnes & Noble…BTW if anyone doesn’t mind a trip to Monroe…Linda’s Story Time is the best place to shop for Kids through Teen books…Linda used to work at Kleins (great story there)…anyway I got off topic…But take a drive and check her out!!

  43. Downtown committee should look to the simple and cheap things that would bring people downtown. Why not build a playground near the library? Amazon can’t keep your kids occupied after you shop there.
    The new trend is customer experience – but honestly that means stores are just serving you a cup of coffee while you browse. We need to make downtown an area that is more than just stores. The downtown plan has lots of that – but in high $$$$ and grand ways. Why not do simple things that enhance what we have?

  44. I heard that Apple was taking the Nike space what happened?

    Sent from my iPhone

  45. Is it possible that some landlords can’t lower the rent because it would lower the valuation on their property and negatively impact their financing? I seem to recall someone explaining that commercial financing works differently than your residential mortgage, and this valuation dynamic helped partly explain why rents sometimes remain high even when empty storefronts suggest they should be going down.

  46. There is a problem Downton but online shopping is only part of it. Westport is not unique, Downtown retail is not really working anywhere. The problem is not the rents or the products or the retailers. Eventually, for better or worse, the market, the landlords and the tenants will work all that out. Downtown is not the retailers responsibility, its the Town’s responsibility.

    “Downtown” is a Westport Town amenity and a good source of tax revenue. No different really than Compo or Longshore. It should be an enjoyable amenity where the citizens can meet and enjoy. But the Town needs to step up.
    They need to figure out how to replace foot traffic and bring people back through the creation of zoning, permits and infrastructure that allows creative and entertaining uses to flourish.
    Loosing the Y and the movie theatre were huge blows to the organic generation of foot traffic but the Town owns the streets and sidewalks, yet does virtually nothing to utilize them.
    Why not create uses that are actually attractive to citizens, young and old. This is being done successfully all across America and has been done in Europe for centuries. Retail stores alone were once attraction enough pre internet but that is no longer the case. The new paradigm (actually its an ancient paradigm) might be staring us in the face.

    I think the Town needs to think more like a landlord and consider making some changes. For example, would they consider any of the following:

    -Close lower Main St to cars
    -Turn the Street into a pedestrian promenade with trees and tables and chairs, benches, etc like you might see in Europe. Light the street at night.
    -Allow food carts, kiosks for artists, crafts, street service from restaurants.
    -Allow every building owner to add a second or even third floor of apartments with zero parking requirement.
    -Allow awnings and balcony’s to overhang Main Street
    -Spin Starbucks around so i they can have outdoor seating in Needle Park
    -Move the Farmers Market to Main Street.
    -Move the Art Show to Main Street
    -Have music on weekends, etc.
    -Sponsor food festivals, Christmas festivals, etc. Tie Downtown food event into the events at Levitt Pavilion…

    In my opinion if they bring life to to the street, people will come back.

    • Diana Pils Marino

      Excellent ideas! I agree. I still shop Mom & Pop stores .. in the 70’s there were no chains here. Selective Eye, Rachna of India, Susan Terry, Country Gal & Aspasia were here. Not Banana Republic, GAP or Limited Express. It was weird but I quickly grew to love eclectic Westport as a teen. Yes, let’s work on those great ideas!

      • Not to be the skunk at the garden party, but I can’t personally recall a notable instance in which the town has displayed the competency needed to faithfully maintain EXISTING public spaces over time. Just look at the man caused disaster that is Winslow Park, for instance. This is probably not an insuperable challenge but it would require a sea change in the culture that led to the state of maintenance which is vividly on display in the downtown area and elsewhere.

    • Bravo

    • Jeff, your ideas are all great!

    • Bill Boyd (staples 66)

      I totally agree…Europeans have done this for centuries.

    • Heather Hendrickson

      Excellent ideas! I hope this blog is being read by the right people.

    • Jeff’s ideas are right on.
      I would encourage those in charge to watch the video I posted above re: Missoula MT and listen to what some of their business owners have to say about some of these same ideas…

    • Who do you propose should pay to make up for all the displaced Main Street parking?

    • It’s the mindset, culture that would have to change, something that doesn’t happen overnight. While Westport will never become Bordeaux, many of these ideas are worth a try… the natural beauty cries out for personality.

  47. David and others-as I walk through Washington BLVD in Norwalk it is easy to see how the restaurants and bars drive people into town and then watch as these people walk thru some of the retail stores. Westport has limited restaurants right in town, and one does not face Main Street-Boca. Some new restaurants are across Posr Road but most park close to the restaurant and it appears they do not walk over to main Street it shop.

    Is this done by purpose? Has it been decided to avoid a more social scene on Main Street at night that would add diners and potential lookers into the stores? How many of us drive our cars to location ‘destined’ restaurants in Westport and never drive to town for drinks and food? If a movie theatre comes to Main Street, where will everyone go? Walk across Post Road to the restaurants across the street and avoid Main Street?

    There are some towns we go, where we can park our car, walk around the town and dine. New Canaan is a great example. Many places to stop for either a drink, dinner or both while being in town.

    David–any input as to how you see this?