AP NEWS

Anchor tenants strong, small businesses ‘hang in there’ at Hawley Lane mall

April 2, 2017

TRUMBULL — When retailer Joyce Leslie closed all of its stores last year, Xuong Phan saw a drop in foot traffic at the Hawley Lane shopping mall.

The loss of the women and juniors that shopped at the store directly affected his business, Hawley Lane Nails, which had opened less than a year earlier, Phan said.

“We didn’t know that was going to close,” the business owner said, noting that because his business is within the mall and has no outside presence he is dependent on word of mouth and people walking by for customer traffic. “It’s so quiet because so many places are empty and there’s no customers or people going by. The business is very slow for us. We’re trying to hang in there.”

Besides the large Joyce Leslie space, which has outside access, there are three other, smaller spaces vacant within the mall. “They need to put more tenants,” Phan said. “That’d be helpful for us.”

John Orrico, president of National Realty & Development Corp., which owns the shopping center, said the vacancies represent only 5.4 percent of the space within the mall, which is anchored by Kohl’s, HomeGoods and Best Buy.

“As a whole, the property is doing well,” Orrico said. “I would have liked to have seen Joyce Leslie not go out of business.”

He said National Realty is negotiating leases with several new tenants, although he wouldn’t say which companies were interested in joining those stores now at 100 Hawley Lane. Once those leases come online, the vacancy rate will go down to 2.2 percent, lower than other shopping areas in the region, Orrico said.

Kohl’s and Best Buy also recently signed lease renewals, he added. “From a standpoint of anchor tenants, the center is in a very strong position,” he said.

Small-business owner, Tony Salluhi, however, said his store, TJ’s Discount Wine & Liquors, like Phan’s nail salon, has also been affected by the vacancies. “Everybody is hurting but there’s nothing we can do,” he said. “If (the mall) has foot traffic, everybody benefits.”

Many customers visiting the mall on a recent weekday said they only visit a particular store and some rarely venture inside. “We don’t use anything else here besides Kohl’s,” said Jerry Rowe, a Milford resident.

Another customer, Dawn Mihalov, who works nearby, said she visits HomeGoods often but doesn’t find a reason to go into the mall. “There’s not much in there,” she said.

Besides Hawley Lane Nails, the inside of the mall has tenants like Payless Shoe Source, a People’s United Bank branch, a jewelry store, optician’s office and an H&R Block location, which is expanding within the mall.

Rina Bakalar, Trumbull’s economic development director, said with the tough state of retail, it’s hard for retailers who don’t have an exterior presence to make it work.

In a recent meeting with National Realty, Bakalar said she was told the company was considering non-retailer uses, like medical offices or preschools, to fill the empty spaces. “Repurposing that interior space will be a bit of a challenge but I think they can do it because they rents are reasonable,” she said.

Orrico acknowledged that “there is an evolution taking place in the makeup of these centers.”

National Realty also owns the property at 950 High Ridge Road and the Burlington Coat Factory building at 74 Broad St., both in Stamford, among others in the state.

He said the goal is to create centers that give people reasons to visit often, not just occasionally.

Stratford resident Fred DeMatteo, who visited the mall recently to get his taxes done at H&R Block, is one such customer. He said his family visits the Dunkin Donuts and package store often.

“They have a nice selection,” he said. “I’m sure these vacant spaces will be filled soon.”

ktorres@hearstmediact.com; 203-330-6227