As a property manager for the Franco Family Trust, Franco rents retail space on Elm Street -- a street where only retail storefronts are allowed on the first floor.

"There's no reason Main Street in Ridgefield can't have the same success Elm Street in New Canaan has," Franco said Wednesday. "There are no empty stores on Elm Street and there's no problem renting the properties out. It's a very desirable place to open a business."

Franco was one of 80 people who turned out Tuesday night for a discussion meeting of Ridgefield's Planning and Zoning Commission. On the agenda was the question of whether first floor business fronts on Main Street should only be retail stores and restaurants by regulation.

"I spoke as a resident of the town," Franco said. "I think the regulation is a good idea. Main Street has a nice layout, is very pedestrian friendly and there certainly is more parking around downtown Ridgefield than Elm Street in New Canaan. There's no reason why it can't have the same success."

Ridgefield Town Planner Betty Brosius said the meeting Tuesday had a "general feeling that some protection is needed to make sure retail is primarily the use of first floors on Main Street and that the number of real estate and other offices on Main Street at this time is alarming."

Given the strong response to the question in favor of first floor retail only, the Planning and Zoning Commission is putting the issue on its agenda for Dec. 18. The commission will need to decide if it favors a proposed amendment to the regulations at that time, Brosius said.

Suzanne Brennan, co-owner of Shoe La La on Bailey Avenue, has worked to push the regulation through. She took a petition with 1,200 signatures supporting the regulation to Tuesday night's meeting.

"I did a survey of the downtown," Brennan said. "Between Prospect and Governor streets, it is 53 percent retail and 47 percent non-retail. We all want the same thing -- a vibrant downtown. We want a downtown with pedestrians on it frequenting the businesses."

Even the realtors who now have offices on Main Street realize they are selling a lifestyle as well as real estate, Brennan said. That means keeping downtown vital and welcoming, she said.

The Chamber of Commerce supports the regulation for first floor retail on Main Street.

"The Chamber wants to maintain Main Street as a vibrant and consumer-friendly area because Main Street has so much charm to maintain," Penny Hoffman, executive director of the chamber, said. "If we want Ridgefield to maintain its competitive edge over other towns, we have to take a hard look at the changes that have occurred on Main Street over the last 10 years."

Speaking for the chamber's Board of Directors, Hoffman said that while they feel it is critical to the overall balance of economic development in the town to have banks and real estate offices, having these businesses use "prime retail space" will lead shoppers to malls or the Internet. Then the merchants will have to compensate for the lost foot traffic.

"That's not to say banks and real estate offices are not a prime part of commerce," Hoffman said. "But it is not critical for them to secure prime spots. We feel the right tenant mix will add to the economic development and economic health of Ridgefield. That's why we see a need for the regulation."

Main Street businessman and commercial property owner Wayne Addessi thinks the proposed regulation is "great."

"It would be helpful to enhance the downtown shopping and dining experience. My family does not need the regulation. We rent to more retail than office businesses," Addessi said. "Of nine locations we have on Main Street, only one office faces Main Street."

Addessi has reached out to 18 other downtown property owners to form a committee to communicate when a Main Street storefront is coming on the market.

"When a space comes open, we can help each other find a prime tenant," Addessi said. "I want to get the Chamber of Commerce, merchants and residents on the committee too so we're not working in a vacuum."

Addessi is hoping the proposed regulation will be one step in a continuing series of improvements to keep downtown vital. He hopes it will lead to improved parking and better traffic flow, with town government working with merchants and property owners.