Why Connecticut remains an attractive destination to lure new retailers
Updated: Apr 10
Luther Turmelle, CT Insider, March 4, 2022
Plans for as many as three Amazon Fresh stores and the state’s first Wegmans are indications Connecticut remains an attractive destination for regional and national retailers, industry experts and economists say.
Although some of Connecticut’s shopping malls have noticeable vacancies and are struggling to remake themselves amid the pandemic, “there are still a number of retailers that are looking at Connecticut’s retail landscape and whether they want to be here,” said Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, a New Haven-based trade group.
Phelan said confidentiality agreements prohibit him from naming specific companies that are eyeing Connecticut locations.
Burt Flickinger, managing director of New York City-based Strategic Resource Group, said the COVID-19 pandemic has kept retailers’ expansion plans in check in Connecticut.
“With COVID apparently clearing up again, they are going to start reexamining the landscape,” Flickinger said.
But any suggestion Connecticut “is facing a retail apocalypse just isn’t true,” Phelan said. A variety of factors contribute to the state remaining an attractive place for new retailers to set up shop, he said.
“The state remains a place where we have consumers with a little higher income,” he said. “And we are doing a better job of making our cities more attractive places where people want to be. Retailers go where people go.
Even in malls and retail centers that are struggling to remake themselves, Phelan said there is a silver lining.
“Malls here are trying consistently to stay fresh, so there's a lot of innovation taking place, a lot of thinking outside of the box,” he said. “Retailers take notice of that.”
One example of that kind of innovation may be taking place in Meriden.
The retail center lost three of its anchors — Sears, Macy’s and JCPenney — since the middle of the last decade. The latest significant national retailer to leave was Best Buy, which closed its store there in October 2021.
But the Meriden Mall’s future prospects may be taking a turn for the better.
Yale-New Haven Health officials announced last October that they were purchasing the former Macy’s space for a “comprehensive ambulatory center.” Renovations of the two-story, 179,285-square-foot retail space are expected to be completed by the end of 2023 or in early 2024.
And adjacent to the Meriden Mall, discount grocer Aldi is moving into the former Savers thrift store space at 495 Chamberlain Highway. The store, which is expected to increase consumer traffic to the mall, is scheduled to open at the end of March.
Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, said for supermarket operators considering expansion, the state “is not for the faint of heart” as a place to do business.
“There has been some real turbulence. It’s getting harder to get and maintain labor here,” Pesce said. “And I’m of the opinion that we are a state that is over-stored.”
Still, he acknowledged some supermarket chains frequently come up in conversation about grocery chains opening new stores in Connecticut.
One of them is Lidl, the German discount grocery chain that is considered a rival of Aldi, which has 20 Connecticut stores. That is about as many New York locations as Lidl has just on Long Island alone.
Pesce said if Lidl is to enter the Connecticut market, it will buy existing stores from chains in the market. He said that’s how Lidl moved into New York, buying 24 Best Market locations on Long Island and three in New Jersey in January 2019.
“I know they build locations from the ground up in places that are growing population-wise,” Pesce said. But Connecticut’s population growth over the past decade is up only slightly, which he said would likely rule out the chain building new stores in the state.
This week, Wegmans announced it plans to open its first Connecticut location with a 95,000-square-foot store in Norwalk.
Another factor that favors Connecticut in terms of future supermarket expansion is what Donald Klepper-Smith, an economist with DataCore Partners, refers to as “economies of scale.”
Pesca said he doesn’t expect the new edition of Food Emporium to open multiple stores in Connecticut.
“I don't see it as a big play,” Pesce said. “Given where the store is going to be, they are probably trying to take advantage of the brand recognition that Food Emporium had in New York City area.”