The economy may still be struggling, but a vacant building on Stratfield Road that once housed a neighborhood food market -- and was embroiled in a long battle between prospective tenant Walgreens and Stratfield area residents -- isn't going unnoticed.
"We definitely have had interest from a multitude of users," Dominick Musilli, the broker handling the space, said recently. "Some have been for the whole building, some have been for a portion of the building, but there is strong interest in the location. We have active negotiations on the building. ... We don't have any leases signed."
Musilli added that that the signing of a lease does not appear imminent.
Musilli said most of the interest in the former Stratfield IGA Supermarket has been from "local, mom and pop (businesses), but we have gotten a couple of calls from national retailers, but the use is clearly for the community."
He said Walgreens, which lost court appeals to open an outlet of its own in the building, wants to "do what's right for the community" and is "looking for suitable tenants the community is going to be happy with." Musilli said it has been on the rental market too soon to identify types of retailers who have expressed interest in the former building, but said most are convenience-oriented uses that would service the immediate community. "This project is going to require some time, but it does have the full attention of Walgreens," he said.
Walgreens is trying to sublease the 9,740 square feet of space at 1280 Stratfield Road after the state Supreme Court last October rejected it final appeal of the denials by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals of its application to open there.
Walgreens had entered into a 20-year lease with the Samuel Lotstein Realty Co. in Stamford, the property owner, in 2006 before securing local approvals to open a pharmacy on the site.
Walgreens' lease on the building, which expires in 2026, has two 10-year renewal options, according to land records in the Town Clerk's Office.
The 9,740 square feet of space, which is at the busy intersection of Stratfield Road and Fairfield Woods Road, could be subdivided into as many as four retail storefronts, according to the website for RHYS, a real estate company in Stamford that is handling efforts to sublease property.
RHYS is advertising the space as an "excellent neighborhood retail location for grocery store or other convenience oriented use," and the rental rate is identified as negotiable.
Josh Garskof, a board member of the Stratfield Village Association and a Representative Town Meeting member from District 5, said that subdividing the space for more than one tenant may be the logical way to go given the state of the economy. Garskof said he'd heard that "a few very local and very small businesses" are trying to work together to lease the building.
But Garskof added that those efforts may not have worked out. "I certainly hope it's still feasible. I think there's still a long way to go to get that resolved," he said. "Obviously, it's been vacant for a long time. ... We'd love to get it filled."
Peter Penczer, chairman of the town's Economic Development Commission, said he wasn't aware of who might occupy the former food market, but added that the Town Plan and Zoning Commission, which approved new regulations on what can open in a neighborhood business district in reaction to the dispute between neighborhood residents and Walgreens, "is going to limit what's going to go there to a neighborhood service."
"People trying to do something different, it's really an uphill battle in that regard," Penczer said.
Garskof, though, said the economy -- not the new zoning regulations -- poses the biggest hurdle. "The real problem is the economy is in the way," he said. "There is some hope people could combine forces and make use of the space."
The new zoning regulations don't prohibit a chain store from opening in the building -- or in any other neighborhood business district -- but they do require the Town Plan and Zoning Commission to approve the plan.
A chain store is defined in the regulations as any business that occupies more than five locations.
Penczer, noting that a filling a vacant property can sometimes take a long time, cited the former location of Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips in the Southport section of town. "Eventually, something happened," he said.
The Stratfield Road building was formerly home to Stratfield IGA Supermarket, as well as other food stores before it, but Glen Rega, the last market owner, was forced out after Walgreens expressed interest in the building and the rent escalated beyond what Rega could pay.