IN THE SUBURBS: Is traditional local and area retail succumbing to .com
Updated 4:33 pm, Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Driven around the area lately? For lease signs are up all over the place and big box stores are remaining empty for longer periods of time. For instance, I just drove by what was Pier One on the Westport line and hadn’t realized the store closed. That store had been around a long time and had a larger footprint than the store on Black Rock Turnpike, but obviously was not drawing the business.
Just over a year ago, a brand new, high-end market behind the restaurant Plan B closed abruptly. To my knowledge, nothing new is going into that space. Walgreen’s in Southport closed, but much to my wife’s happiness, Michael’s Craft store took that space and seems to be doing all right. Garlick and Herb moved out of its smaller space in Westport and the owners built a beautiful new building on the Post Road in Southport.
First Niagara Bank, now Key Bank, closed one of its two large Fairfield boxes, the branch on Black Rock Turnpike more than a year ago. Blinn’s, a toy store institution for more than 80 years, closed in the spring of 2015 and was supposed to be replaced by a medical building. Bob’s Store in Fairfield is closing due to the bankruptcy filing of its parent company, Eastern Outfitters, and that closing process could affect the Eastern Mountain Sports down the road.
Each time I drive by where Sports Authority was on Main Street in Bridgeport, I can only think of a Halloween costume warehouse in a large, open space. Sadly, that’s what’s has happened to so many big boxes. And let’s not forget Stop and Shop on Madison Avenue, which closed several years ago and was never replaced. I know I’ve missed other closings but that would make the list too long.
I recognize that part of the problem is large chain bankruptcies, but from what I’ve been following very recently, the online shopping industry is fast becoming the new footprint for the retail industry. According to a major piece in this past weekend’s New York Times by Michael Corkery, “E-commerce players, led by the industry giant Amazon, have made it so easy and fast for people to shop online that traditional retailers, shackled by fading real estate and a culture of selling in stores, are struggling to compete. This shift has been building gradually for years. But economists, retail workers and retail investors say that it has sped up in recent months.
“Between 2010 and 2014, e-commerce grew by an average of $30 billion annually. Over the past three years, average annual growth has increased to $40 billion.”
Corkery added a statistic that some 89,000 employees in general merchandise retail stores have been laid off and that figure is more than all of the workers employed by the coal industry. “About one out of every 10 Americans works in retail,” he said.
One of Corkery’s very telling comments related to how fast retailers built stores and malls and how so many malls are “being turned into trampoline parks and community colleges.” Remember that Housatonic Community College expanded into what was once a Sears store in Bridgeport.
I have never seen Mall of America, which was built in the early 90s in the Minneapolis area, but Corkery reminded the reader that the footprint of the mall could house nine Yankee Stadiums. And the Palisades Mall just across the Tappan Zee Bridge going toward New Jersey was barely open two years before stores started turning over.
I will be honest. Much as I love using the internet, I still like browsing and buying in a retail store like Chico’s, Ann Taylor or Banana Republic Woman in downtown Fairfield for a gift my wife will like. And I still love shopping the racks at Marshall’s or Kohl’s in Fairfield or at Target in the Mall or Hawley Lane.
I would hate to see any of the smaller Fairfield places close and possibly be replaced by another bank or real estate office as I’m driven to my computer to place an order. And now that DSW Shoes has replaced the old Office Max store in the same mall as Marshall’s, there’s plenty to keep a shopper busy.
Despite these radical changes in our local and national retail landscape, I still believe there is a population like me that won’t go quietly into cyberspace shopping. I can only hope that this growing .com retail footprint won’t isolate even more of the population in front of their computers instead of browsing in still attractively designed stores.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com.