Some of CT’s popular downtowns are experiencing a sustained retail boom

Some of CT’s popular downtowns are experiencing a sustained retail boom
Some of CT’s popular downtowns are experiencing a sustained retail boom

As downtown retailers open their doors on Black Friday in Connecticut, there’s a small subset of “shoppers” who find the choices slim – either store entrepreneurs or expansion-minded chains looking to open in the more desirable city centers, where far fewer storefronts are available today.

Commercial real estate websites LoopNet and list about 600 retail and restaurant properties statewide in Connecticut that have vacancies, including some with multiple suites available that roughly double the number of actual windows. Statewide, the National Retail Federation counted nearly 44,000 retail establishments as of last report.

But digging into the data, there are few opportunities for new stores and restaurants in many downtown Connecticut shopping districts. And few retailers are letting their leases expire as the holidays approach, arranging plenty of extended trips downtown if buyers show up in force this year, as many analysts predict, despite higher prices that could reduce actual expenses.

In the shopping mecca of Greenwich, only one space on Greenwich Avenue has hit the market since Labor Day, as LoopNet tracked. At the other end of the state, in the village of Mystic, no space is listed as available in the pedestrian zone of the tourist town. And along other thoroughfares like Westport, Kent and West Hartford, shopping districts are nearly at capacity.

“There’s a resurgence of downtown, experiential retail — these are areas where big retailers have barriers to entry due to zoning and other issues,” said Sean Cahill, chief executive. from the Norwalk office of real estate brokerage firm Avison Young. “You see more restaurants, you see more health and wellness, salon services — and also some shopping, but not mall-type tenants.”

As everywhere else, the crisis is particularly apparent in Darien, where the initial phase of the Corbin District’s massive downtown redevelopment is proceeding vertically and Darien Commons is nearing completion across from Metro-North’s Noroton Heights station. . Along the roughly half-mile stretch of Post Road from Darien Sport Shop to Starbucks and the side streets, most street-level storefronts are busy on the eve of Black Friday.

In downtown Westport, centered on Main Street, only one of 15 storefronts is vacant. And Greenwich Avenue enjoys high occupancy, although a few high profile storefronts can be sold for the best price, including “the castle” at the top of Greenwich Avenue where Duxiana had a bedding store; and the old United Bank branch at the bottom of The Avenue, where the landlord charges $100 a square foot.

Particularly in western Connecticut, but in many places in the state as well during the COVID-19 pandemic, cities and towns have experienced a booming real estate market that has brought many newcomers from New York and Besides. Add to that last year’s shipping delays and some retailers are starting to toughen return policies on deliveries, and stores are getting an Amazon-era boost from local shoppers eager to explore at both familiar and new stores.

The question is whether it’s sustainable — and whether landlords will start raising rental rates to make chains or would-be store owners think twice about expanding into Connecticut cities, especially in city centers where limited parking may deter some buyers during the busiest stretches.

Commercial brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield reported that the shopping center vacancy rate in the United States fell to 5.9% in the third quarter, the lowest in more than 15 years.

“Tenants are struggling to meet their new store opening goals and are actively looking for opportunities,” said Conor Flynn, CEO of Kimco Realty, which has malls in Branford, Farmington, Hamden, Newtown, North Haven and Wilton among more than 500. nationally. “In many ways this may be the best rental environment we have ever seen due to the depth and breadth of retailer demand and lack of supply.”

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