Stamford shopping center is in trouble. Both mayoral candidates Simmons and Valentine have pledged their support.

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STAMFORD – Whoever is elected the next mayor on November 2 will take control of a city with a robust economy – but one that also faces major challenges in its largest commercial building.

State Representative Caroline Simmons, the Democratic candidate, and unaffiliated candidate Bobby Valentine said they were concerned about the many closures and vacancies in downtown Stamford Town Center, which will see the departure of a main tenant, the Saks Off 5th department store, in about two months.

Candidates pledged to take an open and collaborative approach to dealing with vacant positions in retail that industry experts say show the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All shopping centers are affected by the impact of (the) pandemic on retailers,” said Vince Maniscalco, Stamford-based executive director of commercial real estate company Cushman & Wakefield. “We are seeing anchor (tenant) and ‘online space’ closures across the mall industry. As you look through Connecticut malls, there are a number of vacant anchor points. “

Messages left this week with Stamford Town Center management have not been returned.

Long-standing struggles

Valentine and Simmons said they have frequently shopped in downtown Stamford over the years and have paid attention to its recent setbacks. In addition to the upcoming Saks Off 5th closure, Starbucks and Michael Kors have closed their stores at the mall for the past two weeks.

“If you walk through the brand new South End, if you walk down Bedford Street – which was our first retail outlet – or if you walk through the mall, you realize that the presence of genuine retail in our town doesn’t exist, “Valentine said in an interview.” It’s so sporadic. “

Simmons, who has been the state representative for the 144th Stamford District since 2015, said she has been following the retail industry as part of her role as co-chair of the Legislature’s Commerce Committee. ‘State.

“I think there are a lot of factors leading to these closures (in downtown Stamford) – one of them being The SoNo Collection (shopping center) in Norwalk,” Simmons said in an interview. “Another factor has been the changing nature of e-commerce and retail (brick and mortar) which has been hit hard in our country. And with COVID, it’s been such a tough time for businesses. “

Simmons’ comment about the SoNo collection hinted at the significant competition that downtown Stamford has faced since the latter opened in October 2019. Over the past two years, Apple, Abercrombie & Fitch, H&M, Chico’s, Clarks, Pandora, Swarovski and Talbots have closed stores in downtown Stamford and opened stores at The SoNo Collection.

However, a number of retailers maintained stores in both malls.

“Especially in a declining market, there is always a flight to quality (properties),” Maniscalco said. “Right now, SoNo Collection would be seen as a quality asset in the market. It’s much newer and there are two fashion-focused anchors ”- Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom.

Other closures in downtown Stamford in recent months include Gap, one of the mall’s original tenants, which closed its store on the fifth floor at the end of August. In late July, home furnishings retailer Fernish and fast food restaurant Great Wraps closed their respective fourth and seventh floor locations.

In total, there are over two dozen vacant storefronts in downtown Stamford.

Amid the closures, the mall welcomed several new tenants this year. Home entertainment studio Digital Habitat opened earlier this month in the fifth-floor space formerly occupied by Chico’s.

Other newcomers in 2021 include J. Luppino Fitness & Co., fragrance seller So Avant Garde and Toys N ‘More.

Among its pillars, the mall still has two other key tenants: Macy’s and Barnes & Noble.

Think long term

Stamford Town Center was acquired last October
for around $ 20 million from home furnishings retailer Safavieh. The new owners opened a showroom on the fifth floor last December, completing their neighboring store at 230 Atlantic St.

The two Stamford mayoral candidates are committed to helping mall owners maximize the mall’s potential.

“I think we should consider diversifying the way we use this space,” Simmons said. “I think we could definitely consider continuing to have retail spaces and restaurants – but also cultural events and community attractions, including sports and entertainment. It could also include housing opportunities for students, opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Valentine said, “I am not a developer. I am a problem solver. Hope if they (the mall owners) have a problem, I could help them fix it. If they have a vision, I hope it will be one that matches the vision of the people of Stamford.

The applicants also said they could consider various uses for the approximately 160,000 square foot building at 110 High Ridge Road, which once housed a Lord + Taylor department store until it closed in late February.

Since the closure of Lord + Taylor, the 110 High Ridge has been marketed for potential uses such as offices.

Following its bankruptcy last year, Lord + Taylor closed all of its sites. In Connecticut, it also operated stores at Danbury Fair, Westfarms and Westfield Trumbull malls.

“I would like the highest and best usage for the Town of Stamford and its community. It’s a big parcel, ”Valentine said of 110 High Ridge. “I think the development of this property has to have major considerations before a developer goes ahead.”

Simmons said the 110 High Ridge is “a great property that could be used for retail or housing – or even thinking about sports and entertainment. I think there is a lot of creativity that we could look at with this space.

Despite its retail woes, Stamford’s economic outlook is generally bright. Its unemployment rate of 5.7% was the lowest in August among Connecticut’s five most populous cities, according to the State Department of Labor. It’s also arguably the state’s primary business hub, with eight companies on this year’s Fortune 1,000 list, headquartered in the city.

At the same time, strong population growth is boosting the local economy. Over the past 10 years, Stamford has added approximately 13,000 residents. With a population of over 135,000, it now ranks as the second most populous city in the state after Bridgeport, according to the most recent US Census data.

“We have seen strong growth in Stamford’s economic development over the past few years, and while the store closures in the mall have been a minor setback, they are not indicative of the greater economic progress we are making at Stamford, ”Stamford Mayor David said. Martin, whom Simmons beat in the Democratic primary on September 14, said in a statement. “I hope the next mayor will continue to create a positive economic environment for the whole city and support the popular retail businesses opening here in Stamford.”

This story is part of a series exploring the bigger issues in Stamford with the two mayoral candidates: Caroline Simmons, a Democrat, and Bobby Valentine, who is running unaffiliated.

[email protected]; twitter: @paulschott


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