The city’s roster of retailers extends well south of I-95 and the Metro-North rail line.
While downtown Stamford and its anchor retail institution, Stamford Town Center, dominate the local sector, the South End has forged its own retail identity. While the area will not attract during the holiday season the volume of shoppers that descend upon the mall, the Harbor Point mixed-use development in the South End has supported the growth of a diverse range of retailers. And South End merchants are upbeat about their long-term prospects as the residential base continues to expand.
“The variety of the clientele here is ideally suited for what we do,” said Regina Maguire Kirshbaum, co-owner of the Agabhumi, a women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories store on Magee Avenue. “As part of our group of customers, we draw a ‘vertical lifestyle’ customer base, which is what you find at Harbor Point. That clientele seems to gravitate to what we do. It’s a perfect fit.”
The South End consists of a different mix of retailers compared with downtown Stamford — a composition that reflects city regulations and developer goals for the area.
Harbor Point’s construction has transformed the South End in the past eight years, adding 2,360 apartments to the area.
To support the residents and workers, the project’s developer, Building and Land Technology, has developed a roster of retail outlets aimed at meeting everyday needs. A Fairway Market and CVS on Canal Street stand as the largest stores in the Harbor Point area. Fairway was the first retailer to open in Harbor Point, debuting in 2011.
BLT has never envisioned replicating downtown features like the mall, Target or Burlington Coat Factory, said Ted Ferrarone, BLT’s chief operating officer. City zoning regulations preclude department and apparel stores in the South End’s main commercial districts.
“If you think about retail at Harbor Point, we’ve tried to create retail that caters to residents and office tenants by giving them access to things that they would need all the time such as a grocery store, a pharmacy, a nail place, a hair salon,” Ferrarone said. “Residents and workers want to have those things that they need close by.”
Design Within Reach’s home furnishing studio at 711 Canal St. is Harbor Point’s largest purveyor of high-end goods, covering some 7,200 square feet. The studio’s sales have increased steadily since it opened about six years ago, according to studio proprietor Patti Behzad.
“It’s great being here at Harbor Point,” Behzad said. “It is growing and growing very quickly, and a lot of new people are moving in. Our goods tend to work well for urban living and smaller spaces, so that’s advantageous.”
Those establishments accompany a flourishing restaurant scene at Harbor Point, which now counts 15 dining places on its menu.
Harbor Point’s retail footprint will not change much because BLT has already built the vast majority of what it had planned for that sector. The scope and types of retail in the South End co-exist with the retail concentration in the city center, said Downtown Special Services District President Sandy Goldstein.
“If this was Manhattan with 8 million people, you could have multiple downtowns,” Goldstein said. “But when you have a small city of 130,000, if you want to have a retail area survive, you’ve got to make sure that all the retail is leveraged there. That’s what the zoning board has in the regulations and that’s what we support.”
BLT is taking a prudent approach to retail development, said a number of economic development experts.
“Very attractive stores will attract people, but it will not be a regional retail experience in the South End — I think that would be too much,” said Joe McGee, vice president of public policy for The Business Council of Fairfield County. “You’re not going to put the mall proposed in Norwalk in the South End; it’s just not going to fit. I think the developer gets that.”
Looking for more customers
Years before the first shovels went in the ground at Harbor Point, the South End had already established itself as a hub for furniture and antiques merchants along the Dock Street-Jefferson Street corridor that runs parallel to the Metro-North rail line and I-95.
A number of other retailers such as Agabhumi have also maintained a long-standing presence in the South End. The emergence of Harbor Point has boosted these businesses by expanding their potential clientele bases.
“BLT has created this variety of anchors that are getting folks from out of town and who live here; they’re getting folks who want an urban and suburban experience,” Kirshbaum said. “It’s really fun to see how this whole thing has developed. We’ve seen a complete evolution and revolution in the 14 years that we’ve been here.”
Another 2,400 apartments are planned at Harbor Point, with a 400-unit apartment building under construction at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Atlantic Street.
Merchants in the South End hope that the growing residential base will spur more foot traffic in the area. Away from the bustling row corridor on Harbor Point Road, parts of Harbor Point still have a sleepy pace in the evening hours.
“The area is not very active at night,” Behzad said. “Some of our stores stay open until 9 p.m., and that would be nice here. We just don’t have that kind of foot traffic here. There are more restaurants down here, and the Fairway is fairly busy. It’s in pockets at the moment, but we’re hopeful we’ll see more of that type of traffic soon. ”