Pop-up shops could strengthen downtown
STAMFORD — A month ago, the storefront at 95 Bedford St. stood dark. Today, the lights are back on, and the racks are stocked with shirts, sport jackets, trousers and shorts.
The revival reflects the arrival of the custom-menswear brand J. Hilburn, which has set up a two-month shop as part of the Stamford Downtown Special Services District’s new Retail Pop-Up Program. The one-year initiative aims to boost street-level retailing in the downtown area with temporary tenants — a strategy that is generating more foot traffic, but one that would not solve on its own the ongoing store turnover in the city center.
“We created this program to strengthen ‘Main Street’ and bring in the types of retailers that we envisioned to the street,” said Jackie Wetenhall, the DSSD’s director of retail development. “Hopefully, people will start to realize they can shop here.”
Filling the gaps
J. Hilburn opened its pop-up shop April 22 in a 2,200-square-foot space whose last tenant, Chic Jack’s NYC Vintage Clothing, had closed in January. It apparently struggled to pay its rent during the latter part of its three-year run at 95 Bedford.
The DSSD recruited J. Hilburn — whose pop-up is run by independent stylists Lisa Lombardi, Susan Kantor, Liz Schwinn and Barb Winsor — after Wetenhall met Lombardi and Winsor while they were running a trunk show in February in the downtown Landmark Square office complex.
At 95 Bedford, the quartet are showcasing J. Hilburn samples for a range of casual, business and formal attire.
“We though it was a terrific way to represent the J. Hilburn brand and gain exposure,” Lombardi said. “Clearly, this downtown area has thousands of people living and doing business within a several-blocks radius. So, we feel that our client is there.”
J. Hilburn is sharing 95 Bedford with a number of womenswear, bridal, fitness and home-accessories brands, which are weekly “pop-up partners.”
“We decided to keep it fresh and share the space with other people who might bring in other clients,” Winsor said.
Other retailers are also showcasing their wares in the storefront. A Vespa scooter in the front window comes from New Haven Powersports. Stamford-based United House Wrecking provided the furniture.
In addition, the pop-up is holding fashion and wellness events on Thursday nights. Last Thursday, it hosted a “wedding checklist party.”
Next month, two pop-up galleries are set to open on the street.
After the June 22 finish for the J. Hilburn shop, the Connecticut Society of Portrait Artists plans to exhibit at 95 Bedford.
Across the street, at 96 Bedford, the former home of the recently closed Fernando Luis Alvarez Gallery, is set to host a three-week photography exhibition, starting June 7.
Both of those temporary galleries will feature in the DSSD’s annual Artwalk event, on June 28.
Neighboring town’s efforts
In downtown Greenwich, a few pop-ups have emerged recently, but without a program analogous to the DSSD’s initiative.
Some Greenwich landlords who have hosted pop-ups are ambivalent about such tenants. At 344 Greenwich Ave., a jewelry shop operated during last year’s holiday season, after a Claire’s jewelry store closed.
“Being open for a short time does not allow for the brand to gain traction or shoppers. It doesn’t show a commitment on their part to their product or service and making a long-term plan,” said Alyssa Keleshian, owner of 344 Greenwich. “As such, they come and then fail and wonder why. Stores need to have a marketing, advertising and event plan in order to gain visibility and generate traffic. They need to get involved in our town, the community and with our nonprofit organizations. This doesn’t happen in a week or month.”
Jessica Curtis, a Stamford-based senior vice president at commercial real estate firm CBRE, said she has received similar feedback. She represented the landlord of 371 Greenwich Ave., which in January and February hosted a pop-up for online clothing-retailer Orchard Mile.
“There will always be that chasm between tenants that want to try out the market and landlords who don’t want to take on that risk of super-short tenancies because they don’t usually convert to long-term deals,” Curtis said. “And there are other risks, such as the pop-up tenant possibly not leaving when they’re supposed to.”
Looking long term
DSSD officials plan to bring in several more pop-ups during the next year to help fill the empty storefronts on Bedford Street.
Pop-ups pay an “attractive rent,” Wetenhall said; she declined to disclose the amount.
The latest departure on the street, at 180 Bedford, saw Stagecoach Olive Oil & Vinegar Co., close after about a year-and-a-half in business. Payless Shoe Source’s store at 55 Bedford shuttered several weeks earlier, as part of the company’s nationwide liquidation.
Restaurants still dominate Bedford Street and the other main thoroughfares in the downtown — a trend welcomed by DSSD. But the group wants the pop-up initiative to attract more permanent stores to the city center.
Arrivals in the past few months on Bedford include Thundersley Interiors, Chic Boutique Optical and computer and mobile-device retailer and repairer Compco.
Downtown Golf, Engel’s Furs, Oceanblue Dive, Pedigree Ski, and R. Hollander Master Goldsmith figure among the established retailers on Bedford.
“We’re definitely working toward a better balance, by integrating more merchandise-oriented stores among the restaurants in the whole downtown,” Wetenhall said. “We want to fill the downtown with interesting things for people to do, in addition to the entertainment and dining.”
In Greenwich, a number of vacancies dot Greenwich Avenue. The empty storefronts include the former Ralph Lauren store at 265 Greenwich Ave. and the recently closed Tesla showroom at 340 Greenwich Ave.
“The solutions to filling empty spaces isn’t having numerous pop-ups that come and go; it would be for the town to focus on the parking issue and require (and) help employees find parking off the Avenue,” Keleshian said. “It would be for the town to be more open to different uses allowable in the downtown. Property owners have to turn away interested brands who want to rent space because their use is not ‘allowable’ in the downtown.”
CBRE’s Curtis said she expects pop-ups to continue carving out a niche in the local market, but said landlords will not clamor to recruit them.
“Pop-ups do ‘activate’ spaces and make people more interested in the storefronts, and cultivating a sense of discovery in an area is important,” Curtis said. “But you can’t overlook the challenges of executing on them from landlords’ perspective.”
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