Empty Toys R Us space could foster new businesses, experts say

Finding the right tenant for emptied Toys R Us stores may not be too difficult in southwestern Connecticut heading into 2019.

It’s been more than six months since the demise of the big-box toy store company, which left cities nationwide with thousands of empty retail space, in many cases on prime locations that may grab the attention of potential developers, according to market observers.

“I don’t anticipate (the empty retail space) being vacant for the entire year of 2019,” said Bruce Wettenstein, of Westport-based firm Vidal / Wettenstein.

Following efforts to salvage its company, Toys R Us, like other big-box retailers, closed hundreds of locations nationwide. In Norwalk, Danbury and Milford, Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores shuttered over the summer, leaving behind holes within each city’s retail markets.

In Milford, Wettenstein said, there is already interest in the former storefront. Like Norwalk and Danbury, Milford’s former Toys R Us is visible from a major highway, adding to the marketability across different commercial sectors.

Ongoing construction of the SoNo Collection mall within walking distance of the defunct toy store company’s former Norwalk space, officials said, could add appeal to prospective tenants.

“It’s in a great location with high visibility off I-95,” said Norwalk mayor Harry Rilling. “Having the SoNo Collection nearby is a plus for that location. Not every business is the right fit — both from a physical space and business development perspective — to occupy square footage in a mall. Being close to the retail center — which will bring in consumers from all over the state and New York — is an added benefit.”

The same could be said for the former Toys R US at 17 Backus Ave. in Danbury, which was also near the city’s mall.

Considering the retail markets changing landscape, Wettenstein and other area brokers also see leasing opportunities for several types of businesses for the space other than retail.

“More than likely, it might be a different use such as a recreational (one),” Wettenstein said. “There are companies that are still in the recreational-type uses like trampoline parks and rock wall climbing facilities.”

That was the case with an 85,000-square-foot space in Orange that now accommodates Urban Air Adventure Park at 260 Bull Hill Lane.

Milford-based broker Carl Russell of H. Pearce Commercial Real Estate hasn’t ruled out a possible retail rebirth for that space, however. With roughly 39,000 square feet available, Russell said breaking up the space could improve its marketability.

There has also been interest from other large-scale retailers looking to move into former Toys R US locations nationwide, according to previous reports.

In the early stages of Toys R Us’ liquidation, CNN reported that companies possible retail-focused tenants like TJ Maxx, HomeGoods and Marshalls could refill vacant spaces, along with Dollar General and other off-price stores looking to expand in bulk during 2019.

“It could be a retail play,” Russell said. “We don’t see a lot of 40,000 square-foot retail users in the market. The building probably could be subdivided.”

With loading docks, high ceilings and access to the highway, Russell added that the former store could also be used for businesses looking for industrial space — a market which has seen growing activity in recent years.

Light industrial parks throughout Fairfield County have attracted a number of local businesses in different industries, including medical, recreation, warehousing and order fulfillment sites.

“You’ve got two potential users here, a retailer and an industrial user and what it ends up being remains to be seen,” Russell said.