Post Road Real Estate: Tenants Needed!

In June of 2017, alert “06880” reader/Westport Museum of History and Culture house historian Bob Weingarten drove the entire Westport stretch of the Post Road. He counted the number of commercial buildings with either a “For Rent” or “For Sale” sign.

There were 50.

He shared the information on “06880.” It generated 57 comments.

Two years later he did it again. This time there were 65 commercial properties  looking for tenants — 15 more. Many — including 2 former banks, a gas station and several large retail storefronts — were still vacant from 2 years earlier.

The Mobil Self-Serve property next to Barnes & Noble remains vacant.

Once again, Bob’s story touched a nerve. Fifty readers commented.

The 3rd time — a couple of weeks ago — showed another increase. Now, 72 commercial buildings are available for rent or purchase.

Bob says that one bank building was added to the already empty two. Large retail storefronts still not occupied include the old Pier 1,  and XL Clothing building.

The Mobil gas station near Barnes & Noble, and the large garden center near Stop & Shop are still vacant.

Additionally, 2 new commercial buildings near the new Ignazio’s Pizza (just west of Sherwood Diner), with townhouses in the rear, are unoccupied.

Newly constructed — and not yet rented — space at the foot of Long Lots and the Post Road.

Bob is “alarmed” by the number of empty stores adjacent to Fresh Market.

A renovated large office building on Post Road West will start renting in January, for use as co-working and shared offices.

Empty space on Post Road West, just up the hill from Wright Street.

“I don’t understand how we can be told the economy is getting better and better, with the increasing number of available, empty commercial units,” Bob says.

And, he adds, his figures do not include the apartments that may be available across from Greens Farms Elementary School, or the new townhouses near the diner.

“Several empty available commercial spaces are now occupied — but they are relocations from other spaces on the Post Road, filling one spot but leaving another unoccupied,” he notes. These include Sam Slots Coins, Millie Rae’s and Earth Animal.

“What is going on in the Westport commercial economy?” he asks.

Tons of available space near Fresh Market. (Photos/Bob Weingarten)

45 responses to “Post Road Real Estate: Tenants Needed!

  1. Joseph Thanhauser

    As Groucho Marx said, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” The number of availabilities – a rough approximation of actual vacancy rate – appears to be up 45% over the past 2½ years. Nonetheless, in a high-tax state in a high-tax region, better to trust your own eyes than to believe things are getting “better and better” locally.

    • Nail on the head – “high-tax state in a high-tax region”
      Compare Connecticut’s fiscal health to the rest of the country:
      https://www.mercatus.org/publications/urban-economics/state-fiscal-rankings

      • true Bob. Thank you for the facts. I accept them as true.

      • I disagree that “a high-tax state in a high-tax region” is the explanation.

        I’m not far from Laguna Beach —which absolutely is in a high-tax state—with a real downtown that you can walk around in and I have not seen the comparable level of vacancies that I have witnessed around Main Street in recent years.

        The local equivalent of the Post Road is I suppose the PCH—and, again, just eyeballing the situation, it seems like the vacancy rate is not as bad.

        But, given some of the similarities between Laguna Beach and Westport—except for the fact that residential real estate is a lot more expensive in Laguna—I had been wondering for a while why its downtown seems so much more vibrant.

        Maybe the answer partly has to do with its being a tourist destination. But Westport also attracts a number of out-of-towners.

        I would be curious to hear from commercial real estate experts who might be familiar with both markets as to what the explanation is (because high taxes do not seem to affect the situation. Also, looking at your list of fiscally solvent states, the top two are Nebraska and South Dakota. I was recently reading about small towns in Nebraska losing population and trying to survive, so it doesn’t sound like the commercial real estate market in those types of towns are thriving either.)

        • HI Fred,
          Laguna Beach is a beach resort community in southern California with over 3 million tourists visiting per year….not a good comparison unless we manage to change Connecticut’s coastline, it’s climate, and build luxury beach resorts in downtown Westport.

          • Bob, Laguna Beach is absolutely a tourist destination. But I don’t think those people are the ones patronizing places such as an old-fashioned hardware store, pharmacy, cleaners, etc that exist right in the heart of the downtown section that resembles the Main St area of Westport.

            Plus, the town I am in which is inland and definitely not a tourist destination has shopping centers and strip malls that seem to be doing much better than the Post Road in Westport.

            My guess is that the rents must be lower. I say this because the place I get my haircut, which is a little bigger than the Compo Barber Shop, charges $9 for a standard haircut! I thought I had stepped into a time machine when I heard that price!

  2. How does Westport compare with, say, NORWALK or Fairfield? Where are the businesses that are moving out going? That info might help us understand.

  3. We’ll be moving our accounting firm, Abramson & Company, CPAs into 278 Post Road East in January 2020, so you can strike one of the empty buildings off list for the new year!

  4. Annette Norton

    This is happening everywhere 😦
    Cyber Monday was reportedly up 17% from the increased number (14%) las year. It is obvious the public is choosing convenience . Convenience is good, but community and local are even better. It’s up to those (us) who truly care about their towns to make an effort to go support their local shops, and that includes chain store, etc.

  5. Why then has traffic gotten worse in the face of so many vacancies? Where does it come from and where is it going?

  6. David J. Loffredo

    It’s not the rents, it’s the Amazon boxes on your front porch….

    • Annette Norton

      That is the true answer, it is not just Westport nor Connecticut….it’s happening in every state in the country. If it continues this way Bezos may one day have the wealth and power to conduct business as a world power.

      • As a Westporter now living down here in VA, the pattern is the same with vacancies dotting strip malls like the one by Fresh Market. Just maybe (there and here and elsewhere) there are too many malls and commercial buildings and stores and other businesses to begin with. How much is sustainable? Unrealistically high expectations and investments can lead to disappointment, closures and bankruptcies on all sides of this issue. I do feel sorry for the small business owners who try to carve out a niche in the face of big chains but even the latter are suffering as times change. Yes, the convenience of amazon and internet shopping is not helping either. Here’s to better times.

        On my last trip up to Westport earlier in 2019, I was amazed to see so many very nice housing units (townhouses? condos?) coming up on the Post Road by Morningside opposite Greens Farms School. Who is moving into these places? That’s progress I guess but it seems overbuilt. A lot of people I knew growing up in Westport moved to cheaper communities outside the Merritt Parkway like Trumbull and Monroe. Happy holidays.

    • I agree but there is more. Greedy landlords who are so wealthy many can use the tax loss and keep the space unoccupied. How did they get so wealthy? Buying low and charging excessive rents that forced the hard working store owners to leave . They should have followed Trump economic policy. Declare bankruptcy . Pay no bills. Stay as long as you can. Have no morals.

  7. The small mom and pop stores, as well as the large retailers are all going away. On-line sales have driven most of them out of business, independent stores try to make a “go” of it, but are mostly under capitalized.
    Landlords/owners/leasing agents all need to be realistic and flexible with renters.
    The SONO collection will also draw customers away because they can offer tenants critical mass.
    There needs to be a more realistic and aggressive task force put together to start the process of backfilling these open spaces.
    There should also be a moratorium on commercial development.
    Simple supply and demand principles should help to restore some vibrancy into the vacancy dilemma Westport is facing.
    PS: They are not alone.

  8. Meredith Colder

    I would be interested in knowing the occupancy rate of all the new townhouse and apartment complexes that have been completed. Considering developers are still demanding more affordable housing in Westport.

  9. Randy Herbertson

    I am very weary of comments about greedy landlords – and I am not one. As noted, this is not a uniquely Westport malady – and at least everyone should be happy that instead of a decaying ghost town of neglected buildings we continue to have private investment in upgrades- everywhere. We will be ready for the upturn.

    • greedy landlords are not unique to Westport. High profile landlords like Trump and Jared Kushner set examples for other landlords to follow.

    • I too am tired of this negativity . I’m also tired of reading about the longing for the past. Time moves on and there are many folks such as yourself, Randy, who are working tirelessly to make Westport better. Thank you and the DMA and all the groups and stakeholders who step up on a daily basis to improve our town. The new Christmas lights downtown look great. Keep up the good work. I really wish you naysayers would learn how to be thankful.

  10. Jayne Mauborgne

    I don’t understand why he doesn’t understand. Before all of these new spaces were built we hadn’t rented the available spaces already there. Most of the people who moved out did so because of the increase in rents. Some even doubling. We lost Centro. What restaurant could have been doing more business. Full every lunch hour as well as every night. People still look back and wonder why such a successful restaurant went out of business. And Pier One. I am sure it would be rented by now if the rent price was in line. Merchandisers have to make a living. Therefore the rent must allow for the people doing all the work, paying all the employees, giving health insurance etc. can make a living. It is the reason only Corporate stores could remain on our Main Street. I think before we allow any more permits for development we should do a study on why these new structures are being built. And not to mention whether or not they are adding any style to our town. The new stores coming in to Main Street are all Corporate stores and very expensive. Jayne Mauborgne

  11. Bob Weingarten

    Add another to my list – Restoration Hardware – building soon to be empty!

  12. Christine Freeman

    Also you must consider the remote home office economy in which a number of businesses are allowing employees to work at home who would otherwise rent an office in Westport. And you must consider the online shopping trend so that having a retail outlet is not as essential as it was in the past so there is less demand for retail space.

    • companies allowing telecommuting / working from home has become more common but every business that i know of that has a physical presence and has allowed working from home has continued to maintain a physical presence. some have consolidated the number of locations but i believe, overall the trend is expansion, especially in this economy where hiring has increased (just means they might not have to have 1:1 office/seat for each employee every day of the week). perhaps you can please provide an example of a company that had a physical location (part of or similar to this visible count being discussed in this post) in westport that moved out because of telecommuting…

  13. Chip Stephens SHS 73

    Lets all take a breath If you read the story and comments above you will see part of the explanation and the glass as half full. We are in the midst of rebuilding, from Norwalk line to downtown to the Fairfield line. The Clambox/ Bertucci location just finishing up, the new retail at the condos nearby, the offices on PRW, Fresh Market refresh. All these will not fill till done and most have commitments once complete. Add to that the planned but not started on Post Rd E , Rogers Septic condos, the future of the Redicut carpet bldg and the farm stand mentioned above as condos or mixed use.
    Add to the confusion but promise the issue of moving targets, the old SAAB dealership which became a classic car dealer then was to be Tesla but their vision changes then became a used car dealer now talk is of another Senior Home complex, likewise the old MAXs which was approved as a new restaurant but now has opened as a furniture store. We are down 3 Mexican restaurants and 3 banks so beyond landlords needing to get real with the market pricing they need to get creative and smart with new ideas that will populate the vacancies with locations that are new and will thrive.
    Change, although usually difficult and confusing, is a good direction for the future and much better than stagnation.

  14. David J. Loffredo

    Is there a store or a type of store you think we are missing from the Norwalk/Darien line to the Fairfield/Bridgeport line? Or even within each of those three towns?

    I’m at a loss for what we’d even put in the 70+ Westport vacancies.

    I think supply is way higher than demand – it’s starting to resemble those neighborhoods in Detroit that were eventually bulldozed and returned to green space.

    Maybe we create some urban farms up and down the Post Road….

  15. To respond to David Loffredo: If you are seriously asking: AMONG the stores we need on Main Street is full service hardware store. When Ace Hardware recently closed, it was a terrible loss to homeowners in the area. A liquor store replaced it. There are too many liquor stores readily available all over Town. And we DON’T need more Clothing Stores which are already in the new works for Main Street. The only nearby Hardware store is Westport Hardware on Post Road East, which is fine but it’s not serving the Main Street side of town. And we could use a morning coffee shop, like Atticus which was here many years ago on Main Street. What happened to the tea shop? Probably the rent. And why has Remarkable been empty for so many years? Probably the rent. PROBABLY THE RENT. PROBABLY THE RENT. PROBABLY THE RENT.

    And agreeing to all the comments above about the ‘apartment’ complexes being developed, one more moment: Wilton , Stamford and others have really great senior homes. Why don’t we?

    • Westport Hardware is a treasure and definitely worth driving across town for. The service is more than excellent, they’ll help you figure out a solution to any problem, before they even sell you something. You’ll never get service or guidance like that at Home Depot or Amazon. They’re a family operation and we should all go out of our way to support the business.

  16. From first-hand recent experience, the prices for commercial office space in downtown Westport are double that (or more) than South Norwalk. Our current space in Sono is in a great area (Washington St.) in a nice building. I would love to move my business to Westport but either the costs are significantly more or I’d be forced to sacrifice square footage, location or quality of the space.

    One could certainly argue the Main Street area in Westport has a special charm that you can’t find anywhere else, but that’s not enough, in my opinion, to warrant such a drastic cost difference.

  17. Elizabeth Thibault

    Can someone help explain the financial incentive to charge a higher rent, even if it means long stretches without occupancy, to those of us not familiar with how commercial real estate works? Are there tax or other benefits that can offset 2+ years of lost rental income?
    Thanks

    • Yes, it’s a tax shelter. Building owners use depreciation to generate losses on non-income producing properties which are then used to shelter other income, and thus lower their overall effective tax rate.

      • depreciation is typically amortized over many years (27.5) and can be deducted even if the property is generating income. land isn’t depreciated. therefore the building depreciation over 27.5 years really does not usually come out to be much. so i don’t think the motives are simply depreciation. further, if the landlord sells the property, depreciation usually has to be repaid. perhaps a CPA can shed some more light.

  18. i read some months ago that some places/countries levy a ‘vacancy’ tax on land/building owners. if the property is not occupied / developed / maintained / taxes paid, it can be taken / re-purposed. i can see part of that helping to fight blight and part of it to keep property that could be lived in, used to operate a business, etc, from sitting forever adding no value to the local economy (an in places where there is a housing / affordable housing crisis, it obviously can be used to create housing).

  19. I’ve longed lived in uptown Manhattan and they are having the same pain, Landlords refuse to admit that the economic situation is changing and they can’t go on raising rents–or even keeping them where they are. Lower rents may make retail viable once again. And it might take vacancy taxes and such to force property owners come to terms with that fact if having stores vacant for two years doesn’t do the job.

  20. I asked this question the last time a post like this ran: how does Fairfield do it on their main drag? Lots of restaurants and mom and pop shops as well as a few chain stores…always busy in Fairfield! I got a lot of answers: where their customers come from, some usual complaints about taxes and the Democratic leadership in the state, and the colleges and so on, but their rent (someone told me in a response to my post) was around $35/PSF, significantly lower than Westport. If Westport continues to insist on exhorbitant rents for commercial leases, this isn’t going to get any better, and will in all likelihood get worse.

    • David J. Loffredo

      Cheaper rent and more than 1000 college kids live in the beach area….

      • Annette Norton

        Agreed, it all comes down to shoppers. I have spoken to a few of the owners of stores and restaurants in Fairfield (some of those stores are owned by Westport residents). In addition to locals, they have a large customer base- students and parents (when they come to visit) from Fairfield U and Sacred Heart.
        Looking at the responses here, it only confirms what I already know. Westporters love their town and are protective of it. Whether we agree or not, I believe we can all agree on how beautiful the town is. In addition, the people who make it what it is. It is a caring, heartfelt community. We have Dan Woog, who reminds us of what is happening in town. What a treasure. We have a Downtown Merchants Association with a president who works tirelessly without pay to keep our downtown vibrant, we have Select People and citizens who are huge advocates of shopping and supporting local. This really isn’t rocket science. It comes down to supply and demand. If there are shoppers, the stores can make their business plan. If there are not enough shoppers, the stores close. Every action has a reaction, and for me personally, I choose to shop local and have the local experience. Ps. The Westport History Museum is having ‘Jingle Bell Rock Family Day’ this Saturday, Dec 14th downtown. There will be a variety of crafts, activities and rides downtown in a horse-drawn carriage! Let’s enjoy all Westport has to offer this holiday season and beyond 🙂

  21. Michael Calise

    Many changes are occurring in the Westport commercial real estate market.
    and all point to a vibrant successful future. Most significant is the influx of renovation and new development. Investors and developers do not invest in communities with a questionable economic future. Be patient everyone!

  22. Many of the landlords not only want top dollar but require a 3 year lease which is difficult for many small businesses. I think there would be plenty of businesses willing to fill these spaces with less restrictive leases, but the owners don’t seem to need to rent them out and are perhaps waiting for bigger box type stores that use the spaces for branding and can operate at a loss?

    It’s great to see bedford square hosting pop up shops with local businesses and galleries, that type of dynamism is a good way to get returning visitors and differentiate from the mall.

  23. For the record, it is Sam Sloat Coins, Inc and we have relocated to 1767 Post Road East in Westfair Center. Our reason for leaving 606 Post Road East after 27 years was because we no longer needed a store that size and were unable to reach equitable terms with the landlord.

  24. Given that CT is increasingly hostile to small businesses, this isn’t really surprising. Our state’s pension liability, lack of fiscal transparency, proposed tolls, and tax everything approach continues to drive residents and business away. The landlord’s expectations for commercial rents within Westport are out of sync with the market reality.

  25. This is, unfortunately, a long-running and apparently accelerating problem, and I’m grateful to Mr. Weingarten for providing us all with an empirical basis for discussing it.

    So it’s not just my imagination, but a fact that the stock of dormant real estate in our small town is large and getting larger. I feel a twinge of sadness every time I drive by a familiar site that has gone suddenly vacant and cold. Then when I go down the road and pass another abandoned shell, then another, then a soulless office building or residential complex going up following a demolition, the sadness starts giving way to alarm. I get premonitions of Westport morphing into a kind of upscale slum, where people have money and comfort but no way of escaping a sterile environment or enjoying spontaneous interactions with one another. I realize this is an exaggerated and somewhat silly vision, but I’m just trying to describe my feelings here.

    As is almost always the case with economic issues, the problem stems from a range of causes and gives all us, myself included, leeway to oversimplify in line with our preconceptions. But as I see it, and has already been pointed out in some the comments above, much of the problem can be laid at the feet of Jeff Bezos. Personally, I admire Mr. Bezos and utilize his service with regularity. But I also admire small business people as a group and utilize their services whenever they can do something better than online vendors, which is often. The other problems, also pointed out above, are high taxes, inflexible rents, and regulatory burdens. Many potentially successful business ideas are condemned to stillbirth because of these entanglements.

    It’s the job of small business owners to scout for opportunities and fill the big holes left by the dominant players. It’s the job of landlords to re-purpose real estate wherever necessary at rents viable tenants can afford to pay. Finally it’s the job of state and local governments to encourage creativity among business people, help cultivate a healthy and happy workforce, and minimize tax and regulatory burdens that dampen economic vitality. Officials should know their limits and try to avoid master plans and megalomaniacal thinking.

    If all these people are able to do their jobs effectively, then maybe I can drive down Post Road again without feeling my beloved hometown starting to slip away from me!

  26. Sol Maya Trickey

    Thanks for sharing!