Could the future of Greenwich Avenue be more mom and pop shops?
Updated 2:39 pm, Sunday, July 16, 2017
Does the national retail meltdown spell misfortune for Greenwich Avenue? Many in the local industry don’t think so.
If anything, changes in retail will lead to more boutique brands featured on the avenue, according to numerous sources who handle local commercial real estate.
“This is nothing new,” said Alyssa Keleshian Bonomo, president of K Investments, which owns many downtown Greenwich properties. “Back in the ’70s there were a lot of empty storefronts, but they all got filled. There’s always a retail life cycle.”
The number of retail companies filing for bankruptcy and shuttering stores in bulk across the country is on course to surpass the previous industry high in 2008, according to analysts at Credit Suisse.
Greenwich Avenue has felt the repercussions of these closures with the sudden departure of Ralph Lauren from the brand’s opulent 19,000-square-foot, custom-designed building. Shortly after, news surfaced that Michael Kors wouldn’t renew its lease for a nearby storefront. Last week, children’s retailer Gymboree released a list of 350 planned store closures that include its Greenwich Avenue shop Janie and Jack.
Local business owners also account for several empty downtown storefronts, though some cited alternative reasons for closing, such as retirement and moving to locations with cheaper rent.
Many describe this as a turning point in retail, including in the Greenwich market, but few in town seem fazed by the retail industry’s effect on Greenwich.
“This is nothing like 2009,” said Tyler Lyman, senior vice president at Rhys Commercial. “The vacancy rate is a little higher than average, but that does fluctuate year to year with the economy.”
Several commercial Realtors, including Lyman, reported plenty of action with brands interested in opening in downtown Greenwich. That includes a potential tenant interested in taking over the Ralph Lauren space, which currently represents the largest empty storefront on the avenue.
“The prognosis is still very good for Greenwich,” said Jessica Curtis, a senior managing director at Newmark Knight Frank. The national brands opting to close their Greenwich Avenue shops “have major company issues that aren’t specific to Greenwich,” she added.
Predictions for the future
Due to retail’s “Amazonification” and its excess of square footage in the U.S., “retail is being redefined nationally,” said Newmark’s executive vice president and managing director James Ritman. He predicts that process will change Greenwich Avenue, but not necessarily for the worse.
“I think the future is more mom and pop,” Ritman said.
This year’s rash of closures show retailers can’t support the amount and size of stores they have now, he said. So retailers need to offer “services and experiences” that are unique to brick-and-mortar shops. Smaller, local brands are frequently more keen on providing those things well, Ritman said, citing examples such as Richards.
Ritman, along with others, described the recent retail restructuring as a positive trend in the long run. “A lot of clothing retailers are making refocused decisions about their square footage and right-sizing themselves,” said Lyman from Rhys. “Instead of taking 4,000 to 5,000 square feet, they realize they can do the same amount of sales in 2,000 or 3,000.”
In addition to boasting more local businesses, many said Greenwich Avenue should aim to attract additional restaurants that would increase foot traffic. “Amazon still hasn’t figured out how to deliver you a martini and fine steak,” Ritman said. “Even if there is another financial crisis, people will still want eggs.”
The biggest obstacle facing tenants and landlords who want to adapt to the new retail environment, according to Keleshian, are local regulations that limit how downtown spaces can be used. “It’s important to note that the permitted uses on the avenue have become very restrictive,” she said. “Things like application costs and the amount of time it takes to get a permit are big problems. There is too much regulation. … Town hall needs to be more pro-business.”
Though many remain optimistic that Greenwich doesn’t have much to worry about in the near future, they said it’s incumbent on the community to “vote with their dollars every day,” as Curtis phrased the common sentiment. Regardless of the retail industry’s broader challenges, shoppers have the ability to define the future of their downtowns.
“When people tell me they’re sad a business closed,” Keleshian said. “I ask them, ‘When was the last time you shopped there?’ Residents need to support local business and businesses need to get involved in town.”
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