Post Road Real Estate: 2 Years Later

Alert “06880” reader Bob Weingarten writes:

In June 2017 I drove along the Post Road from the eastern border, near Bulkley Avenue, to the western end, near Whole Foods. I counted the number of buildings — including individual offices or retail space — for lease or sale. I spotted 50 signs, just on the Post Road.

These figures were the basis of an “06880” story: “This Space For Lease.” It drew 57 comments.

Because we have been told that the economy is “so strong,” I decided to drive the same route, and again count how many buildings or individual offices were for lease or sale.

This time I spotted over 65 for lease or sale. That does not include all the new residential construction on the Post Road, such as the 94 apartments at 1177 Post Road East, or the 2 mixed-use buildings with a total of 28 apartments (some in townhouses) at 793 Post Road East.

The former A&J’s Market on Post Road East is available …

While counting, I realized that this mix of for lease or sale buildings and offices was extremely different from 2017.

This time I spotted 2 bank buildings, a gas station, a farm market, a classic car dealer, and several large commercial buildings and retail outlets for lease or sale.

… as is the old Mobil Self-Serve near Barnes & Noble …

During the past 2 years many of the former for-lease buildings have been occupied. But it appears to me there is a larger inventory of space available now, with larger properties.

I have my own opinion as to the reasons — for example, higher rental rates or the economy — but other readers may have better knowledge.

… and the nearby bank, at the corner of Morningside Drive.

The 2017 Post Road story noted that there were “10 or so others on Main Street.” I just drove from the Post Road to Avery Place on Main Street, and counted 10 buildings or retail spaces for lease.

From Avery Place to Kings Highway North I saw an additional 3 more “for lease signs.”

The same questions posed in 2017 are still relevant today: “Is something wrong with Westport’s commercial real estate market? If so, are there solutions?”

Click “Comments” below to offer answers.

Or more questions.

50 responses to “Post Road Real Estate: 2 Years Later

  1. The owners of these vacant, or partially vacant properties, still need to pay taxes and insurance, so my guess is the”For Lease”signs will be replaced by”For Sale” signs, or the asking price for rents will come down substantially.

  2. I met with a builder 4 years ago who thought westport is untouchable and would never go down, finite amount of land, and everybody wants to lived here. I laughed at that, seeing the impending demise of finance people in the area amongst other things. If people can not afford the homes up here and new people aren’t moving in and wealthy are leaving the state, it’s going to leave its mark on expensive post road real estate. Wall Street, that the media has loved to destroy has been taking a beating and compensation way down as jobs have been eliminated and automation taking over many areas. NYC is not sending up wealthy young families. Now add in the commute is 20 or more minutes longer from NYC than 20 years ago, and that is when it’s working on time. Now add in that Connecticut has forced businesses and wealthy companies to leave. Hedge funds can now work anywhere with technology making it easy. Throw in brick and mortar struggling with everything available online. That all being said, I love westport and it’s one of the best towns in the world to live in!

    • I agree with you Adam. NYC finance jobs/compensation are not growing and as a result there are less people who can afford to live in Westport (well the typical westport house). Front office staff in banks are being reduced and it was mostly these people that drove the growth in westport housing and consequently demand for goods and services in the towns. Yes GDP is growing well but thats a reflection of the country in general – high paying finance/legal jobs are probably in decline. What i don’t understand is why the trains are not sped up to reduce the commute time (indeed the opposite has just happened) – imagine if you could get to Grand central in 45/50mins? This would open up Westport to people in westchester and offer considerably lower prop taxes – the town would do very well. Westport – GCT is 40miles? How can this take 70mins? Invest in trains/speed them up and people will come…

      • Patrick Trebat

        I agree. Westport certainly was a nice enough place up until i’d say 2011, the whole state of Connecticut will become a wasteland for New Yorks “defunct” resisdents to migrate toward in the near future. I would leave as soon as I could. Our family had to sell at half the homes value in 2016, because long, impersonal commutes to giant megatropolis cities were more of a thing of the 20th century, and we’re starting to see signs of that in the digital age. Young people have offices anywhere, hedge fund companies, etc… There is not much need for just wall street in the digital age. Cities wont be of much necessity and im predicting many more Detroits in the future. How the Northeast of America will handle these oncoming obstacles is quite debatable. I have personally moved on to greener pastures.

  3. Didn’t you read the news? GDP growth and employment has surged higher than expected. The official measurements say the economy is booming.

    Thanks for doing “citizen science” to bring data into the discussion. Long -term data sets on Westport real estate vacancies would be interesting and helpful. The town should formalize your methodology. It would also make a great learning tool for students.

    Your work points to the very real problem that in most cases people fail to “measure what matters.” Today’s statistics have either been “captured” by commercial interested for spin, or use out moded methods and targets. The GDP and unemployment statistics woefully misrepresent their areas, by design. – Chris Woods

  4. A simple observation that banking, car purchasing and many other commercial actions are now easily done online. Rents in Westport have always driven businesses out starting with what we affectionately call mom and pops businesses.

  5. David J. Loffredo

    What Adam said is closer to the reality, especially if you have a kid in their 20’s or work with young people and pay attention to the world they live in.

    Finance jobs are changing and not in the way that supports expensive homes in the suburbs. Things are more automated, most of the “expensive people” have relocated to low tax locales like Florida, and a place like Stamford that used to house armies of well paid front office people is now a place where the banks dump their lower paid back office people because they’re stuck with long term leases.

    It’s been very popular for liberals to beat up Wall Street, but the structural changes are coming home to roost in places like Westport’s Main Street.

    There are tons of stories that the next generation doesn’t want big “look-at-me” houses and that’s clearly playing out in Connecticut. Couple that with their unprecedented student debt, longer commutes thanks to our decaying metro north infrastructure, and the fact that no one with a job in the city and 3+ hours of daily commuting actually shops in stores like they used to – and you see why the post road looks like it does.

  6. On a somewhat related but not related subject (perhaps needs its own thread): Has there ever been any evaluation or study of sidewalks on the Post Road? Some businesses have sidewalks and some don’t. Its not consistent and makes safe walking on a busy roadway unsafe. I recently tried to go for a jog along the Post Road and thats when reality set-in of how much a mess it is. Perhaps a contributing factor to so many pedestrian casualties over the years? There are even lights pointing out crosswalks that aren’t even connected/operating (from what I could tell). There are sidewalks that lead to nowhere and sidewalks that are lacking connection to paved surfaces. I am curious why businesses have not been forced to install sidewalks? Where would the town be involved with this? Eminent domain and install the sidewalks themselves?

    • Michael Calise

      Any property owner who seeks site plan approval must include sidewalks as part of their plan of development.

      • So there is no way to do anything to existing property owners who are not developing their property? Doesnt the town technically have a setback into existing property lines already?

        • Michael Calise

          Town owns to its property line only as does the abutting property owner. The Town on occasion has required property owners to install sidewalks. The cost of installing a sidewalk to required state standards is quite burdensome which I assume is why they are judicious about the process.
          In some instances The Town has taken on or shared the expense within a larger project such as in Westport Center

    • Carolanne Curry

      But of course you’re right to assume the Town has the obligation to plan for sidewalks where needed and where repairs may also be needed.
      Fact is at this point, you’re not going to see that happening here.

  7. The economy is the strongest it’s been in 10 years, yet the continued penetration of online and retail-alternative options is likely the #1 factor. Plus, I hear many stories from retail owners that their landlords simply continue to impose rental increases annually. If a retailer isn’t growing, that rent increase comes out of the business’s bottom line and eventually, they close. Online will continue to be the biggest factor but rents need to be reasonable and a very good retailer with a true value proposition always has a good opportunity to thrive.

    • Michael Alpert

      The economy is not the reason. We’ve been plugging along at 2% GDP +\- since the Financial Crisis. This problem is multi-factored and has to do with rent prices, convenience, the internet, etc. This is not specific to Westport or CT.

  8. The train to nyc needs to be 55 minutes.
    If we lived in China we would get there in 25 minutes.
    (Our trains are near third world)

    Fix metro north and prosperity in CT will follow.
    It is so beautiful to live here.

    Hope you are listening governor.. Jonathan and Will.

    • So true and yet, every town will fight train rail construction – not here mentality – and environmental regs and processes make it close to impossible to get anything done. I travel a lot and it is amazing how much much better other countries’ infrastructure is to ours. Even the US West is vastly better than Metro NYC.

      • sorry but what towns are fighting rail construction? why would they need to fight anything? the rails are already in-place. its the MTA that is botching maintenance and operations big time.

        • William Strittmatter

          I’m guessing Mark is referring to all of the screaming and gnashing of teeth over the proposed overall improvements to the northeast corridor that will require relocation of tracks. To really speed rail transit, that would include changes in Fairfield County as well.

          Completely separate from how they are maintaining what exists which has deficiencies as well.

          • Joshua Stein

            Yes, completely separate, and probably doesnt have much to do with improving commute between NYC and Westport. The commute between NYC and Westport should be able to be improved with existing rails/locations but somehow the MTA is making it worse and worse. Spent a whole lot of money on new trains that end of the day, travel slower than the old trains. Whats very funny is somehow Amtrak trains can travel on the very same tracks at high rates of speed but the Metro-north trains crawl…

    • John D McCarthy

      Agreed

    • Dont get me started on Metro-north and the MTA. Absolutely ridiculous how bad its getting. Fares going higher and higher and travel times going up and up. No end in sight. I agree that its third world country level reliability.

  9. Just curious how come Fairfield has a pretty robust Main Street? And even multiple side streets with shops and restaurants? To be fair, I haven’t done a count of their vacancies, but it is always busy there, with more ‘mom and pop’ businesses and restaurants (as well as a few chains). The commute to NYC is longer from Fairfield and they too have expensive homes, and it’s such a big town that they have another vibrant shopping district on the other side, on Black Rock. Is it that they also have college students and staff that also probably help these stores stay afloat? Or is it that they offer greater incentives to business owners, as well as lower rents? Honestly asking, I have no idea — it’s fine to demonize banks or the government or whatever, no matter which party you’re in, but the town right next store seems to be doing something right.

    • There are 2 colleges in Fairfield and 4 high schools…spread throughout town. Also, I think Fairfield draws Bridgeport shoppers…Marshalls, Kohls. Target, Bobs Stores, 2 Stop and Shops and a Shop Rite are all a draw.

      Of course, if you went to Stop and Shop a few weeks ago they would tell you that you should have made a better choice and screamed “Shame on You!” and “Greedy Corporation!”….but not to worry, you can go now and they will thank you and tell you to come again…with a smile.

      • Michael Traum

        Link to the majority of Fairfield’s available commercial space priced between $18-$32/sqft with some variables. https://properties.fairfieldct.org/

        • Well that right there explains a lot. Fairfield is significantly more small business- friendly in terms of rent, and therefore it isn’t as hard to open or maintain a mom and pop business in that town. As stores open, and remain in business, it only benefits all of the establishments around them and creates a vibrant Main Street. All other arguments aside on this thread as to why our town is the way it is, I’m sure there are reasons for keeping rents in Westport way up, but I think we are finally seeing the limits of that strategy. Will be curious how Westport’s Main Street fares once the mall opens.

  10. Agree with Michael. The state is not conducive to business – large or small — GE, Aetna, Edible Arrangements, Alexion etc etc. So that means lawmakers search for other revenue sources. Enter highway tolls and marijuana. Same thing happening in Maryland (https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB124329282377252471) and other states.
    Amazingly, all the people who voted for Lamont now have second thoughts only a short time later http://www.news12.com/story/40373157/survey-lamont-ranked-among-most-unpopular-governors-in-nation

  11. Go to Fairfield center at 9:30 pm in the summer and it’s bustling. Go to Westport at that same time and you’d think you’re in a ghost town that was deserted in 1850!

  12. Just wait until the new mall in Norwalk opens up. Retail stores in Westport will have tough competition

  13. Dan, it’s not exclusively a “Westport problem”. While it’s true the soul and draw of Main Street was destroyed by national chains, our shopping trends and retail everywhere is going through a systemic conversion. Even banking is done primarily from the comfort of your hand-held device.

    It’s still unclear how this will all shake out but whatever happens its going to take years to work out. Foreclosures, bankruptcies, new leasing, etc. I am hoping at the end of the day we will see many more family-owned and curated shops. Kind of like we had in the 60’s and 70’s. I just wish the Downtown Merchants Association brings some life back to Main Street in the form of food trucks, farmers markets, arts and craft kiosks, entertainment, etc.

  14. From 2018:

    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.

  15. Westport needs to think of itself as a business. It needs reinvention. Moxie (for those in my age cohort) gone. Compuserve gone. Word Perfect gone! All were the first and leaders in their categories. Gone because they refused to reinvent themselves. The town must stop patting itself on the back and thinking everything is fine. Obviously it isn’t. We were long time residents who finally decided the value of being a CT resident just wasn’t worth it. We now rent in New Canaan because couldn’t find anything that met our needs at a price we were willing to pay in Westport. The deck is stacked against seniors and this is shame because we pay top dollar in taxes and use almost no services. Westport and many towns like it must reinvent or they will become Moxie (the drink.)

  16. Michael Brennecke

    I am baffled that whoever owns all these vacant spaces can carry empty real estate for so long. You hear that they just write it off. Well, if thats true, isn’t it always a better business model to actually have a positive cash flow and not merely use a loss as a write off? Isn’t that a much better problem to have? I think Jeff’s comments point to the fact that there is not going to be any magic bullet solution but many bullets. What I’m not sure about is how you accomplish a many faceted solution with so many seemingly absentee landlords. Who can lead the effort and get people to envision the endgame? I wouldn’t count on the town to figure it out alone. As long as the taxes are paid, what’s the motivation? It’s a marketing problem that I would think needs to be solved by the people who need make downtown a marketplace again. The town would certainly benefit and have to be cooperative. But the short term numbers are daunting. For instance, Bobby Q’s space was sold for 9 million. They must be spending another million to rebuild whatever they are building there. What the hell can sustain that investment and taxes on a street that already has 10 big, perennial vacancies? Downtown has to be reinvented, and it’s going to take people with vision and the realization that the payoff may not come until money is spent, empty spaces are filled and it looks like a place you want to visit. Even if it’s at a loss in the near term.

  17. First of all, there are some truly innovative and (to my mind) completely sensible ideas here! Do we have local politicians reading this blog? Alan Philips and Jeff Giannone – if your ideas were implemented, I can’t even begin to imagine how popular Westport would be.

    As a current Fairfield resident looking to buy in Westport for the lower taxes and slightly shorter commute, I have come to see a spirit of forward-thinking community (evidenced by this blog) that I don’t experience in FF, and I hope one day to contribute to it as a resident. Even places like the Westport Humane Society are extremely well-run and staffed with devoted folk who are proud to work there.

    I know this isn’t nearly as solution-oriented as some of the other posts, but I think Westport is experiencing exactly what our entire country is experiencing: greed run amok and a reckoning with what our current version of capitalism is doing to our economy. My old stomping ground, Park Slope, is going through the same process of vacant storefronts and local, smaller business not being able to keep up with demanded rents on one hand, and the dominance of chain stores and internet sales on the other. I don’t really know how we recover from this, but as Alan wrote, it is so beautiful to live here, and anyone who works in or close to NYC but wants to smell green grass and see wild turkeys in their back yard will, I believe, always consider an area such as Westport.

  18. Jeff,
    You are correct in all the above – and many other successful communities have done just what you have identified.

    As I have said before, having lived in Town for over 35 years I’ve now come to realize that Westport has an identity crisis that did not exist when I move here. Back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s it was clear what Westport was and what our residents cherished as a “quaint, charming, artistic, unique, slice of Southern New England” – not a slice of Long Island. Not so much anymore, and the Town has been reticent to allow substantive public guidance – witness the debacle that 90% of Town residents opposed that is now being constructed at Compo as we speak. The Town claimed that this project was “The Standard That Westport Residents Have Come to Expect”. Really? $840,000 for a mere 3 toilets in an oversized building that pockmarks the unspoiled shoreline vista Westport has enjoyed for centuries? That is NOT the Westport identity that I raised my family in.

    Only once the “new Westport generation” figures this out, perhaps this problem will be turned around. But it begins with the foundational question of image – what we want Westport to be, look like, offer, etc. (not only limited to Main Street). The path currently chosen has been to emulate the Long Island “cookie cutter” offerings that can be found in countless suburbs. Westport Main Street is no longer unique. Only once this is figured out will it again become a vibrant and popular destination for those who do not move here for the education, Longshore and Compo – nor will it even attract Town residents to Main Street on any regular basis. That takes real leadership, difficult decisions, and perhaps most importantly, immersive public involvement rather than Town imposition.

    We currently have many quality and caring Town Boards, Commissions, Committees and officials who are willing and able. However, in my opinion, what has been lacking is an effective structure for powerful PUBLIC leadership & oversight to take control of Westport’s identity – and thereby its destiny.

    Dr J

  19. Dialogue like this is essential and constructive. it should be continued. To that end the Coalition for Westport is presenting a public forum to discuss the future of downtown. It will be held on May 13th at 7 p.m. at The Visual Brand, 56 Church Lane, Westport. Participants include David Kooris, Deputy Commissioner, CT Economic and Community Development (DECD), Randy Herbertson, President, Westport Downtown Merchants Association and Joseph McGee, VP, Public Policy & Programs, The Business Council of Fairfield County.

    Julie Belaga, a Coalition member will moderate the program which will be introduced by Ken Bernhard, Coalition Vice Chair.

  20. It amazes me for someone that is complaining about taxes and can’t live in Westport anymore when they made millions of dollars on sales of a few residents they owned. I guess that was ok when they made all the money but blame the town because you don’t use services anymore. It’s such a double standard.

  21. There’s been a ton of opportunity to draw more people here with the “lower income” housing but this town fights it tooth and nail. This state is dying and if you continue to fight any of the growth opportunity that comes along, this town will follow. Somebody mentioned Fairfield and how their downtown is thriving. It’s doing so because they’re welcoming to new residents and building opportunities, among many other things. Westport just doesnt have that draw to the average citizen anymore

  22. As for national economic numbers. Connecticut has been lagging behind national economic and population growth for years. When CT started an income tax in 1991 (to fund fixing our infrastructure) we lost a regional economic advantage for growth.
    Since then it’s been a long slow decline as the state that has become hostile to business, through higher taxes and regulations. As have others have pointed out declining train service to NYC has hurt as well.

  23. Daryl Styner

    Westport commercial rents have always tended to be higher than average. If its around tax assessment time, landlords prefer to have more properties unleased as a means of appealing to the town to lower their taxes. It’s a cyclic pattern. They get the lower tax rate, and often wholah their property gets rented. And/or their price point it finally lowered to get someone in there. Unfortunately, often a renter comes in at that lower price point, invests alot of money in renovations and then the next time their lease comes up the landlord skyrockets the rent, again. All the tenants investments are for naught, and they have to close. It’s a shame, but this seems to be the pattern of late. It’s an awful cycle for small businesses trying to make it.

  24. Kate Mozier-Tichy

    Yes, GDP may be strong, but wages are stagnant and have been for years. So as bills go up, your paycheck stays the same, leaving less to spend. I have lived in the area my whole life, and as far as I can tell it’s been a trend the entire time. Look at house prices in these towns and then go watch HGTV, this area is inflated it is ridiculous. As a young person, I know that I will not have the ability to buy/live in this area. The middle class is disappearing and with it, normal places to live. This is no longer a middle class area, it is upper class. I was the poor kid all through school because I couldn’t afford certain brands, it was ridiculous.

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