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Tag Archives: Main Street
It’s one of the first things you see entering Westport — getting off Merritt Parkway Exit 42, anyway.
It’s bad enough that the island at the Weston Road/Easton Road/Main Street intersection sends traffic in several confusing directions.
But ever since the demise of Daybreak Nursery it’s been a weed-filled, sign-covered mess.
Longtime Westporter Larry Perlstein decides to do something. Connecticut’s Department of Transportation allows islands to be adopted by companies for upkeep (many in Westport already are). He contacted DOT, to start the process.
Perlstein says it took 6 months of nagging — along with a poke by State Representative Jonathan Steinberg — to get action.
Finally, Northeast Horticultural is giving time (and plants) to maintain the island. They’ve done a first pass at cleanup and planting. They’ll do more this spring.
Perlstein says, “This island is a gateway to Westport. Tons of traffic passes by. I remember what it looked like when it was well maintained, and I was embarrassed for the town it deteriorated so badly.”
Now, if we could only do something about signs for politicians, tag sales and sports sign-ups …
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.
Fred Cantor moved to Westport when he was 10. After Yale University and law school, he and his wife bought a 2nd home here. Then they moved permanently. They spent COVID in California, but are back now.
Fred is an astute observer of all things Westport. Today — looking backward and toward the future too — he trains his eye on downtown.
On Friday, the New York Times wrote about efforts in England to help keep alive and/or revitalize the nation’s “high streets” — the British equivalent of our Main Street — in towns around the country.
Among the ideas is the notion of short-term leases in certain instances — even just 3 months.
That got me thinking about one of the great mysteries of life (which perhaps “06880” readers who work in commercial real estate can answer): How come middle school students in Westport have no memory of any business operating out of the prime location where the Remarkable Book Shop was so successful for so many years?
How and why has that building remained vacant for so long?
And is the concept of a short-term lease for perhaps a seasonal summer-related business, or another entity that would run from the beginning of October through Christmas feasible at that location? Or any retail site on Main Street?
On a related note: The Remarkable used to have display cases outside its store. Even if the current owner of the building can’t find a suitable tenant for the space, is it worth it for the owner to consider renting to a business that wanted to operate a kiosk on its property? Are there other Main Street locations where a kiosk might make sense?
I have happily patronized the Strand Bookstore kiosk on 5th Avenue near Central Park South. Perhaps kiosks would add some street appeal to downtown.
Turning from England and New York to California: When we stayed not far from Laguna Beach, we enjoyed seeing how the town closed off the bottom portion of its Main Street equivalent — Forest Avenue — and turned it into a pedestrian mall. “The Promenade on Forest” featured temporary retail and dining decks, along with art displays.
I love what has happened here with Church Lane. And I know that Main Street has been closed off for an entire weekend for the annual Arts Festival.
I hope to hear from store proprietors on the lower half of Main Street whether they think it might be worthwhile to experiment with closing that section, perhaps for an entire week, to see if it successfully attracts more business.
At the same time, I would love to hear from local officials and residents who live near downtown whether such an experiment might be worth pursuing to evaluate the impact on traffic congestion near downtown.
Speaking of Laguna Beach: The town permitted installation right by City Hall of a fabulous artwork that generated a lot of interest.
Could Westport do something similar with Veterans Green on a regular basis? By that I mean perhaps scheduling periodic events such as small acoustic concerts? Would that type of “happening” help make Main Street more of a destination?
I don’t claim to have any definitive answers. But I would have no objection if Main Street became something close to Yogi Berra’s famous observation: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.
One follows the other. And if one group has its way, there will soon be more lights down.
With more action sure to follow.
The Westport Downtown Association’s newest project is “Light Up Main Street.” The idea is to continue the string lights — currently on Church Lane — all the way down Main Street.
Speaking of action: Josh Allen and Robert Cornield have offered to match up to $2,500 for any donations made.
They’re parents who have each spent the last 12-plus years raising their families here, and supporting the community however they can.
From Coleytown, Greens Farms, Bedford and Staples schools, to Wakemen Town Farm, Little League baseball, DARE, Catch A Lift and other interests close to this town’s heart, both love this town.
Now they turn their eyes downtown.
Josh — who sits on the Westport Downtown Association –and Robert say,
“Tremendous progress has been made downtown, and there is no letting up. With the continued beautification of Church Lane with ornamental baskets and hanging lights, live music on the weekends and outdoor dining, there is a desire by local merchants and community members to have this atmosphere flow right into Main Street.
“Bright lights always bring joy and happiness. However making these improvements comes with a cost. We’ll match up to $2,500 for any donations made to lighting up Main Street.”
The Westport Downtown Association hopes many Westporters will “contribute to the continued beautification of our town, and feel a part of this positive change. The sense of community will be enhanced as we continue to make our surroundings more welcoming to all.”
To contribute and learn more, click here.
This has been one of the most beautiful springs in memory. Trees, flowers, bushes — the colors are eye-poppingly wondrous.
There’s only one thing missing: the beautiful tree that stood for decades in front of the old YMCA (now Anthropologie).
Of course, nothing lasts forever. Once upon a time, another large tree graced the Y’s corner on Main Street.
Look what happened:
As Westport’s downtown renaissance continues, Seth Schachter sends some fascinating postcards from a far different era.
All 3 show “Fountain Square.” The Post Road (then called State Street)/Main Street intersection was as heavily trafficked — for its time — as it is today.
One of the main attractions was a fountain — actually, a horse trough. (“Trough Square” does not have quite the same ring.)
This 1906 view shows the view looking north on Main Street. The first few buildings on the left look similar to today. The Westporter Hotel (right) was replaced in 1923 by the YMCA.
The view below — also from 1906 — looks west on State Street, toward the Saugatuck River and Norwalk. The building in the center of the photo would soon be demolished for — as the postcard says — “the new Jesup Library.” It would be expanded in the 1950s toward the west.
In 1986 the Westport Public Library moved to its present site near Jesup Green; it was replaced by, among other tenants, Starbucks, Freshii and the recently closed Pop’TArt gallery.
In the scene below, similar to the first photo above — probably from the 1920s — the YMCA had already been built (right). A small park outside the library can be seen at the left. The Main Street streetscape is very recognizable.
A horse drinks contentedly from the trough.
And the street is just as rutted as it is now, a century later.