Tag Archives: The Brownstone Westport

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)

Brownstone Finds A Main Street Home

Victoria Schallert reels off the names of locally owned, independent businesses downtown:

Le Rouge by Aarti. Dovecote. Lucy’s. Bungalow. Swoon. Faye Kim. Organachs. Age of Reason. Bespoke Designs. Oddz. Savvy & Grace. Soleil Toile. Fetaire. Bella Bridesmaids. Noya Fine Jewelry.

Plus all the smaller chains of just a few shops, like Lux Bond & Green, Shoe Inn and Shoes ‘n’ More.

And all the restaurants, ranging from Jeera Thai and Finalmente to Boca, Tavern on Main, Jesup Hall, Le Penguin, Joe’s and Westport Pizzerias, The ‘Port and many others.

Her point is: Downtown — including sometimes-overlooked Sconset Square and the Saugatuck River’s west bank — is not just chain stores (and not just women’s clothing).

Schallert should know. She’s the longtime owner of The Brownstone. That’s the jewelry, accesories and (okay) women’s clothing store on the 2nd floor of 142 Main Street.

The Brownstone, on the 2nd floor of 142 Main Street.

More directly, her fun, fashionable and eclectic shop sits right between Tavern on Main and Brooks Corner. The building once housed the original Ice Cream Parlor.

You don’t get more homegrown than that.

Schallert — whose background was in corporate security compliance — switched gears and careers in 2005. Her first Brownstone was on Washington Street in South Norwalk.

But that street was “dying,” she says. So 2 years later she joined with Westporter Mariana Hurtado (who worked at Banana Republic) and Celeste Puglisi (of Shoe Inn and Banana Republic), and moved to 36 Main Street.

She adored the location — right before Banana Republic and Shoe Inn — as well as landlord Drew Friedman.

“He gave us an opportunity. He really cared about the town,” Schallert says.

Victoria Schallert and Mariana Hurtado. Their store looks out over Main Street.

Of course, no store is ever static.

Over the years, as entertaining styles changed, The Brownstone’s focus shifted too. They now sell fewer home accessory items like candelabras; more jewelry, handbags and clothing.

Schallert and her partners work hard to welcome customers. They serve coffee and tea. (“A big corporate company might worry about the liability if someone spills,” she notes.) They gift wrap too, which many chains have gotten away from.

After Friedman sold in 2014, the new owners — Forstone Capital — wanted a larger tenant. They offered Schallert space upstairs. But the town said no to a zoning change that would have allowed the move.

So The Brownstone headed up the street, where Great Stuff had been.

Schallert loves that location — all of Main Street, in fact.

She knows it’s not perfect. It floods. (That’s why she had a tile — not wood — floor at her ground floor location. And when Hurricane Sandy hit, the owners put merchandise in their cars and brought it to their homes.)

A small part of The Brownstone’s offerings.

Schallert adds, “veryone wants independents. But rents are high.”

Yet, Schallert says, because of its small, walkable size, downtown Westport could be like a European village. She envisions folks strolling from Sconset Square through Main Street and across the river, at all hours of the day and evening.

“Everyone exercises here,” she notes. “They should walk downtown.”

But that takes a different mindset, she admits. “People invest in the schools and the library. They have to invest in — and think about — downtown too. They have to realize it nourishes us.”

Schallert wants everyone to know: You can get plenty of locally owned, great nourishment throughout downtown Westport.

And not just at our wonderful restaurants.