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In the Suburbs / Seeing change during drive down memory lane

Published 6:50 pm, Thursday, March 20, 2014
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I attended two events for clients in Stamford this week and realized how much the city has changed in the 32 years since I went to work there for Pitney Bowes -- my first Connecticut job.

Both events were in the heart of downtown, and the place was jumping, even on a chilly, late-winter night.

Along Main Street, just two long blocks between Atlantic Street and Washington Street, a slew of eclectic restaurants have filled an area that once was pretty seedy. High-rise apartments and offices provide a nice backdrop to the area, and Summer Street, which crosses Main Street and Bank Street, has also become a popular night spot.

On the corner of Atlantic and Tresser Boulevard, the bright lights of the Stamford Center for the Arts, one of two popular theaters there, brightened up the area. And the row of restaurants at the parking entrance to the upgraded Stamford Town Center make it a popular eating area.

When I first moved to Stamford -- before I brought my wife and family to Connecticut and bought a house in Fairfiled -- I lived in a delightful residential rooming house just off Summer Street and within walking distance to the Ridgeway Shopping Center. In those days it was perfect for me. There was a drug store and supermarket, several different kinds of shops for men's and women's clothing and a store for coffee.

Like so many other shopping centers, Ridgeway today has been completely redone, and some big-box stores have come in. In my early days, the hotel that now is near the Ridgeway wasn't even built yet.

I left Stamford in 1983 and began commuting to Manhattan. I didn't return until the late '90's, when I started working for a New York public relations agency that was anxious to have a Stamford presence. After looking at expensive rentals on both sides of the Metro North railroad tracks, we settled on Landmark Square, a group of buildings next to the Stamford Town Center.

Our offices were bright, and we had great access to the Town Center. At the time, the Landmark Square complex and offices were undergoing a lot of renovation, and it was fun to be right in the heart of the city during its evolution.

As with any city, the cost of development and improvement comes with its own price. As I drove this week week through the east end of the city toward the Exit 9 interchange of I-95, I saw many once vibrant shopping plazas and strip malls empty. And many two-story buildings had been replaced by high-class condos and apartments.

Just as I approached the highway, I noticed that at least three of the shops in a last strip shopping center had "For Lease" signs. One of the vacancies was a place where I'd stopped regularly to pick up breakfast. I got a really empty feeling when I saw the sign.

The other side of the railroad tracks is where the newer Stamford has mushroomed. For instance, whenever my wife and I get the opportunity, we shop at Fairway Market, a huge retail store on Canal Street that is part of a booming condominium complex. That complex is filling rapidly with unusual boutiques, but Fairway is the real draw.

And the more run-down area around the railroad station is getting transformed slowly also. I remember in 1983 that the area looked seedy and I wasn't comfortable walking through the neighborhood, which was a direct path to Pitney Bowes. Now the neighborhood is much more vibrant.

From 2003 to 2005, I worked as a freelancer for an advertising/public relations firm in Stamford, and our offices were near the water and a couple of waterfront restaurants. I commuted from Fairfield by train sometimes and used the growing shuttle service from the station to our offices. Our building was just regaining its popularity and I really liked our offices.

During my last official working assignment in Stamford in 2007, I commuted a lot by train and took the shuttle bus back and forth to our offices on Tresser Boulevard.

Now, aside from an occasional stop at Fairway Market on a weekend or when we travel and pass through Stamford, I hadn't been back until this week. Color me impressed! Stamford, over the past 32 years, has turned into quite a city. I definitely made some mental notes about new places to shop as I drove around and plan to bring my wife back in the very near future.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: steven.gaynes@yahoo.com.