Tag Archives: Westport Main Street

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)

Ann Taylor And Allen Edmonds Leaving Main Street. Tumbleweeds Next?

Yesterday, Nike handed over the keys to their Main Street store landlord.

This summer, Ann Taylor and Allen Edmonds follow.

That will leave 3 empty stores out of 4 in a row — smack in the middle of downtown.

Skip Lane — retail director for Cushman & Wakefield, the leasing brokers — minces no words.

“It’s a scary time for retail,” the Westport native and Staples High School graduate says. “Nobody knows where this will end.”

Nike has vacated 5,600 square feet of space. Ann Taylor leases 4,000 square feet; Allen Edmonds, 2,000.

The Nike store on Main Street is now closed.

That will be dwarfed when the GGP Mall opens off I-95 Exit 15 in Norwalk. It’s huge — and, Lane says, the only enclosed mall under construction in the entire country.

“It can kill street retail,” he predicts. “Rents will be lower, and foot traffic will be higher.”

Rents for stores like Nike are now in the $130 per square foot range, Lane says. Recent deals, he notes, are around $80 to $90.

Right now, there are 20 or so vacancies in downtown Westport. Lane worries the number will climb.

“I’m a cheerleader for the town,” he says. “But a few more hits, and it will be tumbleweeds down there.”

He offers a partial solution: “Stop using Amazon. Support your retailers. Shop local!”

In 1962 — and long after — Main Street was a vibrant shopping destination. Many stores were locally owned.

Oops!

You have to be very wealthy to afford this Bentley Bentayga.

But that doesn’t mean you’re smart enough to read road signs.

Or notice that, for an entire block, every other car is pointed in the opposite direction.

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.

Hey, 5-Year-Old Kids: Vote For Me!

An alert “06880” reader sent this along, after yesterday’s Halloween parade on Main Street:

Political candidates forced our kids to advertise for them by showing up with balloons — an item kids “have” to have or there is a meltdown.

In addition to being a slimy way to get their name in pictures, the balloons got tangled in the crowds around the trick-or-treat baskets.  Just one more mess for moms to deal with.

It’s a shame when a kid’s event is bombarded with those looking for free advertising.  In addition, there were other people passing out flyers for nanny services and cupcake companies.  I understand this is their core market, but it really takes away from a kid-friendly event. 

Thanks for listening to my rant!

All that's missing from these cute kids' hands are political signs.