Tag Archives: SCA Commercial

Maxx Crowley: Downtown’s Revival, And The Rest Of Town Too

As 2020 began, downtown Westport looked bleak. Boarded-up storefronts, empty parking spots, questions about its very future — Main Street and environs were grim.

When COVID struck, downtown looked even bleaker. More stores closed. Fewer people strolled. The cancellation of big events like the Fine Arts Festival seemed like one final cruel blow.

Yet to the surprise of many, life sprouted amid all the real and metaphorical death.

GG & Joe opened in an out-of-the-way Parker Harding corner. Their acai bowls and pastries were instant hits.

Plywood and butcher block paper came down. New stores opened.

Two restaurants — Capuli and Basso — opened to rave reviews. Two bookstores — one new, one used — opened too, within days of each other. Two gelato shops announced their arrival. A highly regarded bakery will soon move in on Church Lane.

Capuli is one of several new restaurants opening downtown.

Counterintuitively, downtown has come back.

And no one is happier than Maxx Crowley.

He’s an unlikely champion for Main Street. He’s young (a 2010 graduate of Fairfield Prep). He worked in New York City, in advertising and real estate. He’s single. You wouldn’t figure him for a suburban guy.

But he comes from a storied family. His father Steve is the “S” in SCA Crowley, a residential and commercial real estate services firm. Since starting work in September with them, Maxx has jumped head first into the downtown renaissance. He’s already a co-vice president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.

Maxx Crowley (right) with (from left) his brother Bob Crowley and father Steve Crowley.

Despite his youth, Maxx remembers “exciting stores,” Onion Alley with its rooftop music, and mom-and-pop shops like Liquor Locker.

He recalls took when chain stores — even big names like Nike and Banana Republic — swooped in. “They took some of the character” of Main Street away, he admits.

COVID was “a weird perfect storm” for Westport, Maxx says.

“There was a lot of loss. People died. Businesses closed. Restaurants struggled.”

But the virus drove people out of New York. Westport welcomed a surge of newcomers. And people who already lived here — but spent 12 hours a day, 5 days a week working elsewhere — suddenly had time to focus on their town.

They walked. They biked. They picked up coffee and lunch, clothes and furniture in places they had never known about.

Landlords struggled. Rents — quite a bit north of $100 a square foot — took a significant hit. But some of those same landlords also realized this was a time for a re-set. They lowered rates, and looked for new tenants. And those were not always the same-old, same-old national brands that could be anywhere.

Some landlords lowered their rents, or accepted late payments. Some offered a few free months, or help with certain expenses.

It was not easy. COVID or not, landlords still have their own fixed costs: taxes, insurance, maintenance and more.

Downtown depends on foot traffic. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Commercial real estate is “a relationship business,” Maxx says. Relationships often extend far. When one landlord sees another succeeding, they want to be part of the action.

Downtown has many things going for it, Maxx says. One key element is walkability.

“I can park my car. I get my coffee at GG & Joe. I cross the street to Savvy + Grace. My kid” — he doesn’t have one, but you get the point — “goes next door to Brandy Melville.”

That’s not the case in other parts of town. Anyone wanting to cross from Stop & Shop to the cute Peggy’s Cottage Irish store across the street takes his life in his hands.

But the right business in the right spot can succeed anywhere. Maxx points to Terrain: “a beautiful, redeveloped place. No one minds driving there.”

Terrain attracts customers with intriguing displays.

He’s bullish on both Compo Shopping Center too. “Torrey (Brooks, the landlord) is phenomenal,” Maxx says. “He builds relationships with all his tenants.”

There are vacancies there right now. Maxx is hopeful that a “memorable store” comes into the spaces previously occupied by Olympia Sports and Compo Barber Shop.

He also thinks the shopping plaza at the foot of the Sherwood Island Connector — with Restore Cryotherapy, among others — has great visibility.

Further east on the Post Road, Maxx has mixed feelings about Amazon Go, the automated grocery store that’s the rumored replacement for Barnes & Noble.

“People will always want to talk to the butcher and the deli guy. But it’s exciting to see a brand like Amazon come to Westport. There aren’t many Amazon Gos on the East Coast.”

And at the Southport border, Maxx notes that the Home Goods shopping center always has solid occupancy.

The one piece missing from downtown Westport, he says is “experiential” places. He cites the lack of restaurants on Main Street (though a new one will at some point replace Tavern on Main). “In a perfect world,” Maxx adds, “the ice rink would move from Longshore. And music always brings people together. We might not have bars with bands anymore, but they played on Church Lane last summer. That was great. And what about a stage downtown?”

Westport’s Fine Arts Festival is an “experiential” event. It has moved back to Main Street, from Parker Harding Plaza.

He’d also like to see downtown connected, somehow, to Saugatuck. “So many great stores across the river don’t get the attention they deserve,” he says.

“Europe has pedestrian bridges. It’s a beautiful walk along the river. This isn’t Amsterdam. But a bridge or two couldn’t hurt. Can you imagine having dinner at Bartaco, then walking across a bridge — without traffic whizzing by — to have a gelato on Main Street. Then you window shop, and run into friends. That’s a real downtown.”

Meanwhile, Saugatuck itself is filled with “wonderful, local restaurants and markets and shops. Viva and the Duck are anchors. It’s very walkable. There will always be activity there.”

The “ultimate connection” to downtown, he believes, is Longshore and Compo. A restaurant at the beach — and a shuttle between there and downtown — would be “amazing.”

Though not yet 30, Maxx says he has “always” been excited about downtown. Now he sees newcomers getting excited too.

All over town.

Tornado Tees

Some of the many victims of last week’s Memorial Day parade rainout live in Joplin, Missouri.

Longtime Westporter Steve Crowley — the founder of SCA Commercial Real Estate — was touched by our country’s many recent natural disasters, particularly the destruction by tornado of Joplin.

“As my son Luke and I watched the news and read the papers, there’s been just one thing after another.  It’s frightening,” Steve says.

“But everyone helped each other.  They got their picks and shovels, and went to work.  That’s great — but they still need lots of help.”

The logo on the t-shirt.

Steve asked noted graphic artist Miggs Burroughs to design a t-shirt.  Steve then paid for several hundred to be produced, and prepared to sell them during the parade.

He had a float, with plenty of kids helping out, all ready to go.  Whatever he raised he’d send to St. Joseph Hospital, and other Joplin places in need.

When the parade was canceled, Steve went to Plan B.  He set up a table on Main Street, and solicited passersby.

Sales were good.  One man handed Steve a $100 bill, saying, “Keep the change.”

Crossroads Hardware is selling the shirts too.

Steve still has plenty available.

“It’s nickels and dimes,” Steve says of the money he’s raising.  “But every little bit help.”

(To buy a shirt — or make a donation — call Steve or Hilary at 203-227-5050, or click here.)

Stockings For Soldiers

Several years ago, the Christmas spirit moved the Crowley family to help some of the most severely injured soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

They heard about Ward 57 — the amputee section of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  The Crowleys purchased 24 stockings — one for each soldier — and filled them with gifts.

The Crowley family, and their stockings.

Among them:  an Uncle Sam hat, Statue of Liberty pen and pocket calendar — all engraved with “Thanks to our heroes!” — plus a book, commemorative silver dollar with an American eagle (thanks to Sam Sloat Coins), an eagle/USA baseball hat and an M&M-filled candy cane.

An American flag pin decorated the trim of each stocking.  And each soldier received a letter from the Crowleys, commending them for their service.

They’ve continued the tradition every year.

“We believe the efforts, sacrifices and commitments provided by the men and women of the armed forces are immeasurable, invaluable and incredibly honorable,” Judi Crowley says.

“These stockings are our way of saying thank you to these brave men and women, and letting them know we’re thinking of them.

“It gives us great joy to fill up these stockings and ship them.  But when we receive a thank-you note — sometimes from the soldiers, sometimes from spouses — it really warms our hearts.  It reminds us of how lucky we are to have these brave men and women fight for our rights and our freedoms.”

(Want to help Ward 57?  Call Lisa Janet at 202-782-9759 or 202-789-1557 — note that there are restrictions on what can be sent.)