Downtown bustling with holiday shoppers, but others not so merry
Published 7:25 pm, Thursday, December 11, 2014
Two weeks into the holiday shopping season, local retailers are reporting that business generally has been brisk in the downtown area.
But a handful of merchants in the Compo Acres Shopping Center on Post Road East say they continue to take a hit from construction and renovation work going on there.
Stephen Silver recently announced the luggage and gift store his father started in 1951 would close for good after the holiday season, noting the drop in business caused by the construction sealed his decision to close. Silver's is the longest continually operating store in town, and its closing follows the demise of Max's Art Supplies, which was also a mainstay on Post Road East since it opened in 1956.
Meanwhile, a third Post Road East retailer is going out of business, too. Top Drawer, a designer clothing shop at 1537 Post Road East, has launched a liquidation sale after 37 years in business.
"Max's was an institution and a business that left a great legacy," Desloge said. "It was a business with a specific niche that was being challenged."
He said retail businesses "come and go," adding that "new ones don't last, and some in business 50 years feel it's time to move on."
He said that's especially true in a family-owned business when there is no one to pass it on to.
Silver said his business had been struggling for a while and there were several factors in his decision, including trends in the retail business and a slow economy. But, he added, the "nearly eight months of construction in the back parking lot" proved to be the last straw.
Work on the shopping plaza continues, causing other store owners, like Cathy Vogel, to express concern about the fate of their businesses.
Vogel owns the Winged Monkey, a clothes and shoe store for children, juniors and women.
She said business has fallen off sharply since construction on the shopping plaza began late last year.
"We lose a few thousands in sales each day," she said, noting it's not just during the holiday season that sales have been down. "It's just been horrible."
Desloge said the town had planned to begin some construction on Main Street in the fall, but merchants persuaded the town to postpone putting in new curbing and decorative lights. "Now it will begin in February," he said, noting how disruptive construction can be on businesses, especially this time of the year.
MAIN STREET BUSY
While those businesses at the Post Road East shopping center are struggling, a short distance away, on Main Street, retail stores, like Jack Wills, are faring much better.
"We are seeing a good number of shoppers," said Jamie Hendrie, manager of the men's and women's clothing store. "Christmas is our best season."
Although people began shopping later this year, Hendrie said sales have been brisk. "We also saw an increase in sales on Black Friday," he said. "Some of the recent rainy weather, though, seemed to keep people away."
Hendrie said Jack Wills is a British brand that many people seek out this time of year. "They also like the store decorations and the fact that we gift wrap," he said.
At LF Stores, a Main Street boutique, sales have also been good, said Janaye Robinson, store manager. The store sells "all exclusive items and overseas brands" and is "very Bohemian and trendy" and geared for teenagers.
"Sales have been better than last year," she said, adding holiday shopping picked up after Thanksgiving. There wasn't a Black Friday sale at her store, but Robinson said it was exceptionally busy that day.
Providing a personal touch has proven a winning formula at The Brownstone, a lifestyle boutique and importer, on Main Street.
"We are fortunate to have lovely customers," said Victoria Schallert, co-owner. She said they shop for a variety of items including jewelry, handbags, scarves and home accessories.
"We also do beautiful complimentary gift-wrapping," she said. "We feel that people made an effort to get someone a gift then the gift should look terrific when it's given."
"The streets are full of people," said Matthew Mandell, the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce executive director and RTM member, about holiday shopping in town. He said that's a positive sign for local businesses.
To put the downtown area in a "festive mood" and draw more customers downtown, the Westport Downtown Merchants Association is sponsoring complimentary horse and buggy rides the next two weekends.
Local school choirs and other groups will be caroling and there will be hot cider and hot cocoa sold to benefit local youth groups.
And, of course, there will be Santa will make an appearance, strolling along Main Street. Most of the activities will take place between noon and 3 p.m. both days.