Officials: About 30 new businesses in Westport's downtown

WESTPORT — Though some storefronts still stand empty in Westport’s downtown, many in the town’s business community said things are looking up.

Randy Herbertson, president of the Westport Downtown Association, said he didn’t know exactly how many vacancies there are in the downtown area, but it’s “many fewer than a year ago.” In fact, he said, roughly 30 new businesses have either opened since February or plan to soon.

The newcomers include a specialty food shop, two gelato shops, boutiques and outposts of well-known brands, such as Barnes & Noble.

“It’s very diverse,” in terms of business type, Herbertson said.

Though there are still storefronts to fill in downtown, he said he’s optimistic about the months ahead for several reasons. First, Westport has seen a huge influx of new residents. A study released in May showed that Westport led Connecticut and New York in new arrivals in 2020, with 2,731 incoming changes-of-address offsetting 2,059 outgoing as reported to the U.S. Postal Service, for a net gain of 672 households. New people means new customers, Herbertson said.

Another factor boosting downtown business is the recent lifting of many of the restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re moving forward in what I feel is an appropriate way,” he said. “People are out and about, but there’s a good level of respect” for safety.

One of the new businesses to arrive in downtown Westport recently is La Fenice Gelateria, 49 Main St., one of the two aforementioned gelato shops (the other being Cold Fusion, 178 Main St). The Westport La Fenice is the eatery’s third location, with the others being in Greenwich and Rye, N.Y.

“We had a lot of customers who would drive from Westport to Greenwich,” said manager Riccardo Galati. “They would say ‘When are you opening in Westport?’ ”

Galati said his family has wanted to expand the business into Westport for years but “it was never the right time” until recently. The shop opened in late June, and he said the response has been good. He said he isn’t concerned about the presence of another gelato shop nearby because “the street is big enough for both of us.”

Though the town saw some business closures in the past year, Herbertson said many of those were part of large chains that were downsizing.

“We did lose a few retailers (during the COVID-19 pandemic), but most of those were probably going away anyway for various reasons,” Herbertson said.

That includes Restoration Hardware, the former site of which is now home to Barnes & Noble, which relocated from its former home in the Post Plaza shopping center earlier this year.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said he is pleased to see the downtown area moving forward, particularly as he has had a “long-term commitment to revitalizing downtown,” through such projects as improving parking and sidewalks. Like Herbertson, Marpe didn’t have a firm number of how many storefronts remain open, but gave an estimate that roughly 10 percent of spots on Main Street need to be filled.

“There are fewer and fewer empty storefronts in the downtown area,” Marpe said, pointing to the northern end of Main Street intersecting Avery Place.

“That had been empty, and now those spots are filling in,” he said.