Tag Archives: Savvy + Grace

Main Street, Bleecker Street, And The Future Of Retail

A year and a half ago, the New York Times said Bleecker Street “looks like a Rust Belt city.”

On 5 blocks from Christopher Street to Bank Street, more than a dozen storefronts sat empty.

“Where textured-leather totes and cashmere scarves once beckoned to passers-by,” the paper reported, “the windows are now covered with brown construction paper, with ‘For Lease’ signs and directives to ‘Please visit us at our other locations.'”

This past Tuesday, the Times changed its tune.

A headline trumpeted “The Return of Bleecker Street.”

Eighteen months after its obituary, that same 5-block stretch of the West Village is “full of cool, vibrant people doing interesting things.”

What changed?

“Big-name luxury labels” are gone. Their storefronts are now filled with “young, digitally native brands….a well-curated mix of small brands with big ideas.” Many are run by women.

Hill House Home on Bleecker Street shows that a bit of creativity can produce wonders — and entice shoppers. (Photo/Stefania Curto for New York Times)

The sudden switch was no accident. Brookfield Properties bought 4 properties with 7 storefronts last April — “after exorbitant rents and a dearth of shoppers had driven out most of the businesses.” The new owners “immediately set to work rethinking the landscape.”

A creative strategy firm helped plan short-term leases — and revenue sharing.

Nell Diamond — the founder of bedding and bath retailer Hill House Home, an early arrival — did not believe retail was dead.

Bad retail is dead,” she clarified.

Bleecker Street’s new stores have become destinations — and community centers. They offer hot cocoa, and host podcasts, educational events and book club meetings. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a book signing at Lingua Franca, which sells cashmere sweaters hand-stitched with political slogans.

So why is “06880” highlighting a story about 10012?

Because some of the descriptions about last year’s Bleecker Street resonate with this year’s Main Street.

There are some great, fun stores downtown. You can lose yourself — and find nearly every gift you need — at Savvy + Grace, and The Brownstone. Bedford Square is filled with shops like Savannah Bee Company. Serena & Lily has brought new energy and creativity too.

Serena & Lily draws crowds of shoppers, just off Main Street.

But there are too many “windows covered with brown construction paper.” Landlords still hold out for sky-high rents, and refuse to consider options like short-term leases and revenue sharing.

I know, I know. Apples and oranges. Westport is not New York. Main Street will never have the foot traffic of Bleecker Street.

But we don’t need all those empty storefronts either.

If Greenwich Village can find a way out of its retail doldrums, our village can too.

(Click here for the full New York Times story. Hat tip: Michelle Sinclair Colman)

Tailor Meets Taylor

Ryan Meserole owns a great business on Railroad Place.

Suited.co — recently rebranded as Quentin Row — is a men’s custom clothing shop. Directly opposite the train station, Ryan makes commuters (and many other folks) look and feel great.

A couple of miles away, Michael Connors has a thriving business too. Taylor Place — named for its location, between the library and Tiffany — is a consignment boutique, with an ever-changing treasure trove of intriguing items.

We often think of Saugatuck and downtown merchants as competitors. But Ryan and Michael forged a connection that’s a model for small local merchants, wherever they are in town.

Not long ago, Ryan wandered into Michael’s shop. He wanted some vintage pieces for his window display.

Michael already knew of Ryan from “06880.” The consignment owner asked the custom suit guy a few questions about marketing. Ryan helped re-build Michael’s website, and gave advice on how to leverage social media.

Michael — who has a wonderfully artistic eye — helped Ryan redecorate his storefront. He gave Ryan some sharp-looking furniture.

There’s now green ivy on the bricks, a new sign and alluring windows. Soon, Ryan will add a barber, stylists and shoeshine in the back, ramping up the men’s style vibe.

Quentin Row is going all out to be a great neighbor. Starting this Saturday, Ryan is opening up some of his newly renovated space as a holiday pop-up. For example, Lynn Reale of Gypsy Bleu Jewels will showcase her line of men’s beaded bracelets.

Artisans, craftsmen and other cool people interested in exhibiting at Quentin Row should email Ryan@suited.co.

Quentin Row also offers a Black Friday special (November 23 to 26): Buy one, get 50% off the second.

Michael and Ryan share a passion for Westport’s small businesses. Wherever they’re located in town, the 2 owners don’t want them to leave.

“The Chamber of Commerce helps where it can,” Ryan notes. “But 1-on-1 connections like this — sharing talents, helping each other — can really help revitalize Main Street, the rest of downtown, and Saugatuck.”

A vintage piece from Taylor Place, now on display at Quentin Row.

The idea is spreading. Ryan says that other stores on the block — like The Flat next door — are also freshening up their looks.

“If you don’t evolve, you die,” he notes. “We have to make sure that people enjoy shopping local.”

“No one wants to see a store like ours, or Michael’s — or Savvy + Grace, The Brownstone or Indulge by Mersene — go out. We all need to work together. And we’re having a great time doing it.”

The holiday season is here. Our local merchants work hard to draw shoppers in.

Now, they’re working together — to sew together our town.

Flooding Main Street With New Stores

It was a common refrain all summer, from former Westporters who returned to visit parents, attend high school reunions or just passed through: “What happened to Main Street?!”

They saw the butcher-papered storefronts. They noticed empty signs where national chains once stood. They found plenty of parking, but not much life.

Behind those grim facades though, another story is emerging.

Frequent flooding has taken a toll on downtown businesses. Chico’s, for example — and Sunglass Hut, across the street — were closed for at least 6 months after Hurricane Sandy. Both are now gone.

Main Street, a bit after the worst flooding from Hurricane Irene. This photo was taken exactly 7 years ago today: August 28, 2011.

High-tech gates offer a solution. Basements are filled with special concrete. Foundations are poured. The gates are stored off-site. But — with just a couple of days’ notice of impending bad weather — they can be trucked over, and clicked into place on both the Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza sides of buildings.

When the storm passes, the gates are removed.

It’s a new approach, resulting in fortress-like properties. A similar project is underway in Lower Manhattan, following Sandy’s destruction there. Closer to home, David Waldman flood-proofed Bedford Square as it was built.

But it’s expensive and labor-intensive. It takes several months for the concrete and foundation work to be done. And that’s after the long permitting process, involving a number of town bodies.

Plus, every Main Street landlord needs to be part of the project. If one store is not protected, water pours into adjacent properties through the walls.

But it’s a solution that landlords and merchants have worked on for months. Skip Lane — a 1979 Staples High School graduate who remembers downtown’s mom-and-pop days — is now a retail director for commercial real estate broker Cushman & Wakefield. He works with Empire State Realty Trust, an enormous firm that owns the Empire State Building, along with a substantial portion of Main Street.

They’re in the midst of flood-proofing the now-empty stretch, from the former Chico’s to the old Ann Taylor.

Stores on Main Street frequently flood. This is the scene at Parker Harding Plaza. (Photo/Chip Stephens)

It’s not easy. Though they’re Empire’s buildings, for example, the town owns the sidewalks that are part of the project. Many other municipal obstacles slow the work too.

But it’s important. As Lane notes, landlords have gotten hammered for the vacancies on — and vacant look of — Main Street.

Lane says that commitments have already been made for key retailers to fill the former Nike, Allen Edmonds and Ann Taylor stores. Peloton is moving in to the old Sperry spot — and they’re flood-proofing too.

“Main Street is not as bad as it looks,” Lane adds. “But with all the construction, it will probably look that way for another 9 months.”

Meanwhile, downtown shoppers should not miss some real gems. Shops like Savvy + Grace and The Brownstone are open, thriving, and vivid reminders of the days when downtown pulsed with fun, unique (and locally owned) options.

Let’s hope they’re flooded soon.

With shoppers.

Savvy + Grace is on Main Street, underneath Tavern on Main. It’s one bright spot in Westport’s downtown retail scene.

Savvy New Store Graces Downtown

Annette Norton comes from a long line of retailers.

long line.

Annette Norton with her grandfather, Larry Stein. His mother opened the Dorothy Stein Shop.

In the early 1900s her great-grandmother opened a store — the Dorothy  Stein Shop — in Scarsdale, New York.

Annette’s grandfather took over, and ran it all his life. It was passed on to her mother, who eventually sold it and moved to Fairfield, with Annette and her sister.

The man who bought it just retired. After more than a century, the store is now closed.

But Annette has opened a new one.

It’s on Main Street — the same downtown area she remembers spending days in with her mother, as a girl.

Savvy + Grace is that rarity: a new family-owned shop. It’s underneath Tavern on Main. And though it’s been open only a few days, it’s already drawing raves.

Part of the reason is the merchandise (“attainable luxuries handpicked by you”).

Part too is Annette’s passion for local retailing. “For me, the feeling of a living downtown center is wonderful. It’s even more special in this day and age of the internet,” she says.

As she travels, Annette notices busy shopping areas. But, she notes, “having true, viable shopping downtown in your hometown is really something.”

She feels a strong sense of community — and of wanting to shop local — in Westport.

“People need people,” Annette says. “I felt the time was right to bring not a chain store, but a store you might see on vacation — with unique, cool items for everyone.”

Just as she felt part of a retail family growing up, Annette was to share that experience with her daughters, now 13 and 11.

Annette Norton with her husband Hunter, and their daughters Sophia and Chloe.

They helped her get started. On weekends, they greet customers. They’re doing what Annette herself did, years ago.

So what about the store name?

Annette chose it because “savvy” shoppers quickly realize they’re getting a good deal. Her prices are the same as online (that is, if you could even find some of her items on the internet).

And, she adds, “I would like grace to my place.”

Annette Norton now graces Main Street. Her great-grandfather would be proud.