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New Canaan Needs Landlords and Retailers That "Get It"

A letter from Kate Bonner

(Editor's Note: The author is a landlord of multiple holdings in New Canaan.)

I believe strongly after watching my grandfather, J. Elliott Smith, build in New Canaan, thinking "out of the box," building things that simply didn't exist — ie, apartment buildings — that the fundamental emphasis of any study should be; what the town needs and how do we get it. 

Children/teenagers outweigh adults 3 to 1..... They do not need junior cashmere sweaters, designer shoes and handbags and iPhones. Certain chains in town most definitely send out this message. What New Canaan needs are landlords and retailers that "get it." What ever happened to fair isle sweaters, Treetorns and the infamous L.L. Bean canvas tote?  But the economy falsely ballooned. Did certain landlords get ridiculous in 2006? Yes. So did the expectations of many people. But, did many of the landlords backdown or correct?  No. The prevalent attitude seemed to be that, if we all "stick together" we will be okay. 

After an interview in July 2010, where I was accused of price fixing " just to fill spaces" I asked the paper, "which would you rather have for the town, more dark spaces or a thriving business such as the , rented at the competitive rents in the market in 2009"? No reply to that one.

I don't think we can berate our township for not shopping, I think we need to get them what they need, at prices they can afford and subsequently " right size " the thinking behind it.  Which means that Elm St., and other prime locations need to correct by 25 percent  if not more, in order to provide things like cheese shops and bakeries where the cakes are not made of gold in order to meet the rents.  

This kind of compromise will bring our township back where it belongs —  shopping in New Canaan.  Additionally, it would help greatly if more landlords would actually speak to their tenants; otherwise, as evidenced by a few incidences last year, the worst WILL happen. They will pack up over night and leave. And, some parking would help — for a town like New Canaan, we have some of the ugliest unused spaces around.

Let's downscale, focus, and get realistic.

Tom Woodard June 14, 2011 at 10:43 AM
This is the most completely sensible, easy-to-understand diagnosis of the downtown issues I have seen. Thanks, Kate! Tom Woodard
MPM June 14, 2011 at 11:44 AM
Thank you, Kate, for your well stated thoughts and support of New Canaan shoppers! I would like to add that I would be more willing to shop downtown if I could park there without damage to my car from other people opening their car doors into it all the time.
JL June 14, 2011 at 12:31 PM
I've actually rarely found parking to be an issue in town. Perhaps it's because i'm ok if i have to park a block away or in the lot behind town hall. It's not a big deal to me and I would rather not have hideous strip mall like parking lots everywhere. The most glaring example of a landlord not getting it whoever owns the Wire Wisk location. Clearly they were given bad advice and have not received any income for four years now. I hope enough landlords take to heart what is mentioned in this article and future retailers understand what you need to be successfull here. I look forward to continue shopping and supporting our businesses here in New Canaan
Toddy Turrentine June 14, 2011 at 02:40 PM
Kate, while I agree with many of your comments, children do not outnumber adults 3 to 1 in New Canaan. As of the 2000 census, residents under 21 were 33% of the population, and I doubt that group has grown to 75% in the intervening years. I will hunt for up-to-date statistics; perhaps our town planner will have them.
MPM June 14, 2011 at 03:04 PM
The numbers may not be exact, but last Friday afternoon it sure felt that way!!
Four Jacks June 14, 2011 at 03:29 PM
MPM - I mean no offense, but I believe it is the teens in our town who are contributing the most to downtown business and traffic. My teens spend money in town, I and my husband do not. Not for lack of trying, but most of what we need is not really available in town. Yes, Friday afternoons is when the teens swarm in town, but be glad, these are the same teens that later shop in the apparel and shoe stores as they grow older.
Elmcrest June 14, 2011 at 03:31 PM
Many good points here. And, as for parking, I no longer park in the Park Street lot since they re-striped the parking spots to what must be the legal minimum width. I don't drive a big car, but I can barely fit a car into them. Maybe re-striping got us one more spot per row, but it's made parking a bigger hassle in the process. Ditto for when they re-did the diagonal parking spots along the south side of Elm Street; they steepened the angle, probably to gain an extra spot or two, but now, to back out, you have to cross both lanes of Elm Street to get out of the spot. In a time where we should be getting smarter about parking, we're getting stupider.
Tom June 14, 2011 at 05:49 PM
I vote that we give Kate the $75,000 the town intends to waste of the taxpayers dollars. At least it would remain local and I would bet she would invest it right back into the town. Thank you Kate. My family and I shop local. I prefer local owned businesses rather than chains. I prefer the personal service I get at a local owned business rather than the "I don't really care" attitude of the chains. Zumbachs over Starbucks, Varnums over CVS. I can easily drive to sports authority but OMG have you tried to ask a question there? Yes my kids shoes are slightly more expensive but I get the service, the right fit and in the long run I save time that I can spend with my kids that doesn't involve driving them all over creation to save $5. That isn't quality time anyway.
MPM June 14, 2011 at 06:07 PM
I completely agree LAD - I wasn't complaining, merely making an observation.
MPM June 14, 2011 at 06:13 PM
I second that the $75K goes to Kate for reinvestment in New Canaan!
Jay June 15, 2011 at 11:37 AM
Hats off to you on this article Kate - your perspective is spot on. Refresh my memory - why do we need the $75k study? We already have the final report here.
PMP June 16, 2011 at 03:50 PM
I agree with Kate Bonner Wholeheartedly. As a business owner who owns his own property, I believe many landlords have failed to recognize the new paradigm: people are looking for a deal, regardless of their income level. Charging high rents to tenants makes it impossible for New Canaan retailers to compete in the market, withe the results that tenants, landlords, our town,and the tax base suffer. WAKE UP!
Hank Edwards June 17, 2011 at 06:27 PM
There is no reason to dump on landlords. It is simply business. We need a call to action: Stop The Chains From Moving In. Pretty simple huh! People fight Walmart all the time. And win (and lose). Why don't we also clean up Main / Forest / Elm Street by making the facades of all the buildings look the same. No logos on our streets. Can we try quaint somehow? We are losing folks. People don't park and walk in New Canaan. Too lazy!
Stuart Pratt June 17, 2011 at 06:39 PM
Suburbans, Hummers, Escalades....Don't blame the DPW for the width of the spaces! These monsters should be parked in the muni lots and leave the Elm St spots for cars!
Tom Woodard June 17, 2011 at 07:32 PM
I am totally with Stuart. Usually these 8-passenger vehicles carry one Mom doing her errands.
Jay June 17, 2011 at 09:12 PM
Stuart - too funny. In San Francisco, the transit system is called MUNI, so I thought you meant these behemoths should be be parked in the bus lot. Perhaps not so far off the mark!

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