After being hit by flooding last year during Superstorm Sandy, two retailers are closing their downtown outlets because they are concerned about being struck by another major storm.
Klaff's lighting and decorative hardware store at 14 Post Road East and Chic Jolie women's clothing store at 24 Taylor Place both plan to close by the end of April. Flood waters during Sandy breached the stores, which both stand yards from the Saugatuck River.
Klaff's was shuttered for about two weeks and Chic Jolie for one week after the late-October storm.
While both establishments' owners said that business has rebounded since re-opening, they said they remain worried about being inundated by another major weather event.
"Unfortunately, the Sandy storm didn't help much and we don't want to play victims to a storm like that again," said Klaff's co-owner Felicia Passero.
Klaff's has had a store in downtown Westport for more than 100 years. Its flagship store is in Norwalk, and the business also has outlets in Danbury and Scarsdale, N.Y. All of its Westport employees will remain with the company, Passero said.
Chic Jolie will move to the Brick Walk shopping complex at 1215 Post Road in downtown Fairfield, with a mid-May opening scheduled there, according to its owner, Alla Ionescu. It opened in August at 24 Taylor Place -- the same location where Ionescu ran a franchise of the baby clothier Jacadi for the previous eight years.
Ionescu praised the support of customers and her landlord, but described Chic Jolie's relocation as necessary to prevent the major disruption her business faced after Sandy.
"It was a chain of unfortunate events," she said. "We were one of the first ones hit by the water and the wind. Our corner was impacted more than anyone. And then shoppers didn't come to the downtown for one or two weeks. It's too big of a risk for a small business to stay and have exposure to the river and, from an insurance perspective, it's very expensive."
The closing of the Klaffs and Chic Jolie downtown showrooms highlights many merchants' lingering concerns about the town center's vulnerability to a repeat of the major flooding from the nearby Saugatuck River that struck the area during Sandy and 2011's Tropical Storm Irene. A number of downtown businesses, including Nike Running and Banana Republic, were closed for several weeks after Sandy. Two other Main Street retailers, Sunglass Hut and Chico's, remain closed -- more than five months after Sandy.
Ionescu said she prepared extensively for Sandy, including removing merchandise from the store, taping windows and sandbagging the store's facade. Even with those measures, she said, flooding was difficult to repel.
"I just wish that after the experience of (Tropical Storm Irene in) 2011 that something could have been done to prevent the flood," she added. "And 2012 took a bigger hit on downtown Westport. Something should've been to prevent the water from completely flooding the downtown. It affected not just us, but many other stores, as well as the customers."
"There has to be top-of-mind awareness to do something immediately to take preventative measures, assuming something like this is going to happen next year," he said.
"If nobody takes action to solve it, then that becomes a really critical issue for tenants in the town. The town and the merchants and the landlords all have to work diligently to take action somehow."
A number of town officials also knowledge the town center's vulnerability to serious flooding during major storms. Addressing that threat constitutes one of the top goals of a downtown master plan of development proposed by the Downtown 2020 Committee, a panel appointed last year by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.
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