And the move to redevelop the shopping center, which opened in October 1986 on the site of the former Danbury State Fair, into its new more upscale image is apparently working.
In less than four years, the sales per square foot -- the industry standard for analyzing the success or failure of retail properties -- has grown nearly 25 percent, according to financial filings from the mall's parent company, Macerich Co.
The two-story mall, close to the border with New York, is a key component in attracting shoppers from neighboring affluent communities as well as Westchester County, making Danbury a retail mecca for the region.
"I used to go to Westport or New Caanan if I wanted to go shopping at Brooks Brothers," Ridgefield resident John Gillum said Thursday at the mall.
"I really like the quality of clothes the store offers. But now I can do my shopping in Danbury. It's so much more convenient."
Other shoppers who used to travel to the Westchester mall for upscale fashions said they no longer have to drive long distances to meet their needs.
"I just love how the mall has improved its selection," said New Fairfield resident Sherry Bennett. "I used to have to go to Westchester to find these kind of stores, but not anymore."
The mall, touted as one of the largest in New England, has about 180 stores as well as several anchors, such as Sears, Lord & Taylor and Macy's. Some of the newest offerings include L.L. Bean and Dick's Sporting Goods, which opened in the site formerly occupied by Filenes. According to financial filings, the mall had an occupancy rate in June of 95.5 percent.
The new face of Danbury Fair mall began, however, in 2006 with a massive multi-million dollar renovation. Mall officials have declined to comment on how much they invested in the property at the time.
Wooden benches were replaced with leather couches, coffee tables and seating areas that welcome tired shoppers -- or their tag-along spouses.
"These days we are seeing a lot more redevelopment of properties rather than ground-up development," he said. "And that includes attracting new retailers."
Mall Marketing Director Melissa Eigen said changes to the shopping center have been designed around the region's demographics as well as customer surveys.
"Like any business we have a strategic plan and every couple of years we intercept research studies to gauge our market," she said. "In the last few years we've improved the brands we offer and included more high fashion brands based on customer research."
The mall also has improved its dining offerings, bringing in establishments like The Cheesecake Factory and Chipotle that are located in areas other than the traditional food court.
Tron said that also fits with industry-wide changes.
"Part of the national trend is to give shoppers more dining and entertainment options and customizing to be more consumer friendly, like plush seating," he said. "Just about anything that will improve the customer experience and keep them in the mall for longer periods of time."
In June, Macerich reported that sales per-square-foot at the mall reached $644, far surpassing the national average of $460 and the Northeast average of $545.
The strength of the mall's performance is due, in part, to the dual market the center draws from -- a wide region stretching from northern Litchfield County, northern Westchester County and southern Fairfield County -- some of the most affluent areas of the country packed with shoppers who have disposal income.
Eigen reported that more than 40 percent of the mall's customer base cross the New York border every day.
"Before the mall was built we were experiencing unprecedented retail leakage," said Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce President Stephen Bull. "People wanted the kind of stores the mall has and were willing to drive out of the area to find them."
The mall, he said, helped to put the city on the map for both consumers and national retailers.
"The mall rang the dinner bell for other retailers, who began to pay a lot more attention to Danbury," Bull said.
Today, areas like Federal and Newtown roads that have the high traffic counts required by national brands, "are constantly being courted by major big box operations," Bull said.
The area immediately around the mall has burgeoned, with the most recent addition a Whole Foods store that opened in May.
The growth of retail in Danbury has resulted in the city reporting more retail sales than any other urban area in the state.
Last year alone Danbury retailers reported more than $5 billion in sales and sent more sales tax revenue to Hartford's coffers than most other regions in Connecticut, according to figures from the state Department of Revenue Services.
Officials with the department stress that while the numbers may not be a truly accurate depiction of sales activity -- some national retailers will report all their statewide sales from one location -- it is a barometer that shows continued growth in the city's retail market.
Shoppers who used to go out of the area to buy the latest fashions are now coming to Danbury.
"I usually go to the mall about once a week," said Jennifer Ferentini, of Westchester County. "I just love the selection, and the convenience. And it beats having to battle the traffic of going into Manhattan."
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