They’re not the Trump Organization, the mammoth real estate company. They’re not Empire State Realty, which own the Empire State Building — and commercial real estate on Westport’s Main Street.
But Admiral Real Estate Services is no slouch. The commercial real estate company focuses on retail sites in the tri-state area. You’ve seen their signs on vacant storefronts around town.
If they have their way, you’ll see fewer in the future. Admiral is bullish on Westport.
The last couple of years have not been easy, notes president and CEO Jonathan Gordon.
Norwalk’s new SoNo Collection mall — “the newest and shiniest project out there,” Gordon admits — “sucked a lot of the energy out of downtown.”
COVID brutalized merchants and landlords. Downtown Westport — and similar markets like Darien, Greenwich, Rye and Scarsdale — saw shoppers flee to online.
But as the nation emerges from the pandemic, Gordon says, “retailers are returning our calls.”
Part of the reason, he believes, is “internet fatigue. Millennials want a more experiential shopping experience. Retailers see a need to be downtown.”
“Downtown” draws more than Westporters, Gordon says. It’s a destination for many area residents. Within a 15-minute drive, Admiral’s website says, “the population jumps to over 150,000 with an average income exceeding $170,000, resulting in total buying power for in-store retail goods (excluding food and drink) of $4 billion+.”
One thing that Westport has over some other affluent suburbs is that while residents leave in the summer for vacations (and vacation homes), they’re replaced by equally affluent summer residents. That’s attractive to Admiral — and the properties they represent.
Despite an upturn in commercial real estate activity, there are still a number of empty storefronts. For Admiral, that includes 2 properties at the Post Road/ Main Street intersection, and 4 others on the river side of Main Street (one is the long-vacant 2-story restaurant most recently occupied by Boca and Acqua).
Admiral also represents 2 properties on Post Road East, near Balducci’s.
For retailers looking for a new location, Gordon says, Westport’s competition is “really Greenwich.” It’s a “formidable” location, with a “nice, long retail strip, close to New York City.”
So, he says diplomatically, he tries to sell both locations.
In terms of Westport, Gordon says, “we view Main Street as one entity. Our goal is to find retailers that help other retailers be successful.” La Fenice gelateria — an Admiral tenant — is one such place.
“People who get a gelato will go next door to shop,” Gordon notes. “If they come at night, they’ll go window shopping.”
The new Barnes & Noble — not an Admiral property — is another example of “exactly what downtown needs.”
So how tough a sell is Westport?
“Everything is tough these days,” Gordon says. “We may drag people there by the scruffs of their neck. But we show them the free parking lots. We give them marketing materials, with specific breakdowns of population, income and consumer purchases. We help them assess the viability of a site. Seeing downtown is more powerful for them than anything.”
In the past, he notes, potential retailers have been “surprised at the disconnect between the number of vacant stores, and the potential.”
Coming out of COVID, he hopes, those numbers — and that disconnect — will diminish. In their place will be a new mix of retailers, and eager shoppers from far and wide.