It has been a somewhat difficult spring and summer for the retail environment along Greenwich Avenue, the high-end shopping district in Greenwich, where several high-profile stores have closed. Retailers including Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Free People, Mangano Made in Italy and Gymboree’s Janie and Jack outlet have exited, while the Claire’s jewelry and accessories chain plans to shutter its store in November.
“Walk up and down Greenwich Avenue and you’ll see a decent amount of storefront vacancies,” said Tyler Lyman, senior vice president at RHYS LLC, the commercial real estate firm in Stamford. “It needs a little improvement.”
RHYS recently reported an availability rate of 9.9 percent and 105,569 square feet of available space on Greenwich Avenue. The retail district also had a vacancy rate of 5.6 percent and 59,358 square feet of vacant space. “Most available larger space is 3,000 square feet or more,” Lyman said.
In many ways, the avenue is a reflection of a wider crisis in retailing. Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Gymboree closed scores of stores across the nation and the closings of their Greenwich Avenue locations were viewed as cost-effective.
“When a national chain closes dozens of its locations, they tend to choose the ones in the high-rent districts,” said Jessica Curtis, a senior managing director at Newmark Knight Frank in Stamford. She pointed out that rents at some locations on the avenue might have been a bit too high. “There is also a disparity between what the landlord thinks the market rate is and what tenants can afford to pay. Sometimes there is a chasm that cannot be bridged,” the retail broker said.
Lyman agreed, noting that some landlords may have gotten the message. “We are not seeing a lot of deals high of $125 per square foot.” he said. Several $200-per-square-foot requirements by landlord failed to attract tenants, he said. “Things have come down to earth.”
Greenwich Avenue leasing is also affected by the uncertainty regarding Chicago-based developer GGP’s planned Norwalk megamall, The SoNo Collection, a 700,000-square-foot complex expected to open in 2019. It will feature Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom as its anchor stores and 80 to 100 smaller retailers.
“A lot of people want to see what happens,” Lyman said. “There are a lot of higher end-clients waiting to see what the mall is going to look like.”
Still, Greenwich’s shopping district has seen some leasing activity. Betteridge, a jewelry store that opened in Greenwich 1952, recently relocated from 117 Greenwich Ave. to a larger space on the avenue.
“It is about three times the retail space,” Win Betteridge, the store’s chief operating officer, said of the new location at 239 Greenwich Ave. “We’ve seen our business increase in volume in terms of foot traffic. The available ticket size may be a little bit down, but the number of customers is up.”
Betteridge expressed surprise that the Greenwich Avenue district was having difficulties. “I am amazed how busy it is every day,” he said. “We’ve been a little bit shocked hearing that things were slowing down. That’s not what we’re experiencing at all.”
While tenants have been leaving Greenwich Avenue, a parallel movement of incoming tenants has been percolating. New arrivals include a pair of menswear retailers, Bonobos and Rodd & Gunn, along with Something Natural, a sandwich shop and bakery founded on Nantucket Island, and Douro Restaurant and Bar.
Marcia O’Kane, president of the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, saw nothing unusual about Greenwich Avenue’s state of health. “Like most towns around here, we have some vacant storefronts,” she said. “After a few months, certain stores are replaced by others. And stores like Saks are betting on sustainable shopping in Greenwich.”
Saks Fifth Avenue is using Greenwich Avenue for a retail experiment. Rather than the one-stop-shopping approach that dominates retailing, the company has four standalone stores within walking distance of each other. In addition to the main Saks, shoppers can visit the company’s first shoes-only store, 10022-SHOE, which opened last October; The Collective, a modern designer fashion store that debuted in February; and The Vault, the first free-standing jewelry store in the Saks network, which launched in May.
“Our customers in Greenwich love to shop in a boutique, intimate environment,” said Joe Gambino, vice president and general manager at Saks in Greenwich. “To do that, the only way to expand was to go into four separate locations.”
So far, that experiment is working. “We have clients from Westchester, Fairfield County, even further up from New York state and Connecticut and customers coming up from New York City,” Gambino said.
The one wild card in Greenwich Avenue’s future could be the impact of online retailing on traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. But Lyman doesn’t see the growth in online shopping as a threat here.
“People are coming to Greenwich Avenue for more of an experience,” he said. “They love to walk the avenue and shop in and out, seeing what’s in the high-end stores. These are stores that you do not see every day outside of New York. And I don’t think women are going on Amazon to buy a Hermes belt.”
Curtis at Newmark Knight Frank, however, said that Greenwich Avenue is not totally immune from the e-commerce challenge. “Someone might be going into the store and see something that they could buy later” online, she said. Still, “I don’t think women are buying high fashion on Amazon — yet.”