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State retailers experience dip in sales

August 24, 2018

To the CEO of Target, it is the best outlook for retail in 15 years. For Sears Holding, it has been an ongoing retail apocalypse with another round of closures in store heading into the crucial stretch of holiday shopping.

As for southwestern Connecticut? It is somewhere in between — but trending downward as back-to-school shopping wraps up ahead of the inevitable early barrage of holiday reminders.

Southwestern Connecticut retailers saw their combined sales receipts ebb 1.5 percent last year to below $5.3 billion, according to updated retail sales figures published by the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services.

On balance, the region lost between 60 and 110 retail stores, if the DRS data is accurate after accounting for entities that have yet to report taxes for the 2017 fiscal year, and isolated discrepancies between data sets last year and in 2016. That left less than 6,200 stores in the retail triangle formed by Greenwich, Milford and New Milford that includes some of the state’s biggest retail districts in Bridgeport, Danbury, Stamford and Norwalk, with DRS also including non-store retailers like websites in its annual analysis of sales receipts.

In South Norwalk, the rough outline of the SoNo Collection mall is taking shape alongside Interstate 95, with 14 months to go before its promised opening in time for the 2019 holiday season. The SoNo Collection will add more than 80 stores to Norwalk, which led southwestern Connecticut last year with retail receipts of $1.2 billion as reported to DRS, a slight decline.

‘Chasing the things that are working’

SoNo Collection developer GGP is in the process of being acquired by Brookfield Property Partners, whose CEO Brian Kingston told investment analysts last month that his company’s properties have escaped any significant effects of a wave of retail bankruptcies this year, but that it is already examining ways to further some of GGP’s initial efforts to find new uses for mall space beyond retail stores.

“We feel we will be able to execute reconfiguration of GGP’s retail properties into alternative, mixed-used assets at a more rapid pace and better financial returns that would have been possible on a standalone basis for GGP,” Kingston said.

Along with Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom plans to open a new department store at the SoNo Collection, with a member of the Nordstrom family telling analysts last week that the company is trying to design its newest stores to be able to adjust on the fly to the whims of consumers and the brands trying to reach them.

“We’re just trying to have our whole physical setup be as absolutely nimble and fluid as it possibly can be,” said Pete Nordstrom, company co-president. “Obviously, there’s some limitations to that, but that’s a theme that we’ve been (working) on for quite some time, ... making sure that we’re really funding and chasing the things that are working, and then working hand-in-hand with the stores to make sure that we get the floor space to do that.”

Elsewhere in southwestern Connecticut, DRS recorded Fairfield with the biggest net gain in retail stores, adding nine to its base, with Ridgefield and Danbury store managers reporting the biggest gain in revenue at more than 10 percent. At the other end of the scale, Darien, Monroe and Redding all saw double-digit declines in revenue from 2016.

All are looking ahead to a final holiday shopping season without the extra competition that the SoNo Collection will bring, and with the continued uncertainties for the retail sector as Amazon, Walmart and others continue to build out their online customer bases.

“I would need to be clairvoyant to tell you exactly what’s going to happen for holiday time,” Nordstrom said in mid-August. “But I think we’re on a good trajectory in terms of what we’re focusing on and that it’s bearing fruit.”

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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