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Dread in the shadows of big box stores

January 6, 2019

Dread. It’s not so much an emotion, but an emotional response that can range from a nagging concern in the back of your head to paralyzing fear. For most, it washes over us when we see or hear something that we know instinctively is trouble. It grips us when we see something coming over the horizon, and we can’t tell if it’ll be good or bad for us.

For the longest time residents and merchants at the extreme ends of Greenwich have peeked over their borders, gazing over the revitalization efforts and the influx of businesses in Port Chester, N.Y., and Stamford, and felt at least a smidgen of dread. We wonder, what will happen to our Byram, Old Greenwich and Riverside shopping districts if these towns continue to grow? Will an influx of big box stores chase out the mom and pops? Might these previously bedraggled areas become actual “destinations” and compete for Greenwich restaurant, shopping and entertainment dollars?

Well, west side Greenwichites can breath a sigh of relief as things in Port Chester certainly look like they’re not going exactly as planned. Original concepts for Port Chester’s revitalization were certainly grandiose but the reality after more than a decade of trying seems to be an equilibrium of some new attractive shopping and dining destinations scattered among the same old, same old that’s always been there. Plus a huge movie theater and the wonderful Capitol Theatre.

Planned condominiums are turning into rental apartments. Very few new retail establishments have blossomed along the Route 1 thoroughfare, and the short list of successful new restaurants is out-paced by the number of failed attempts. Port Chester is still a great town with some terrific dining and entertainment options, but it’s not the boom town some Greenwich residents and business owners were dreading years ago.

The same can’t be said however of what’s happening in Stamford. Many east side Greenwichites point to the charm and feel of the village of Old Greenwich as a primary reason why they live there. Others enjoy the convenience of the Putnam Avenue retailers and businesses congregated around exit 5. But for what seems like forever there’s been a nagging concern that growth just over the town line would siphon off enough shoppers to cause a cascade of business closings on the Greenwich side of the border.

Two large supermarkets opened in Stamford, Poricellis closed in Old Greenwich, but Kings opened in its place. Home Depot opened and instead of panicking, the Feinsod family doubled down on their local hardware store. Now a supersized CVS is within spitting distance of existing Riverside and Old Greenwich CVS locations and here comes that word again. Dread.

The CVS spokesperson said, “We look forward to serving the pharmacy needs of the Stamford area from our new store ...” What was unsaid in that careful statement was that Riverside and Old Greenwich are included in the “area,” and you do have to wonder, at what point will local CVS sales start cannibalizing each other? And if so, will it be only a matter of time until CVS shutters either the Riverside or Old Greenwich location.

Would it be the end of the world if that happened? Many in Old Greenwich still consider the CVS building there to be an affront to the quaint New England village they have in their heads, so they might be happy to say “adios.” Until months go by that is, and the building is just sitting there vacant and unrentable. Or maybe the CVS in Riverside would close. That one might have more of a ripple effect as local folk looking for one-stop shopping migrate from Riverside Commons to the Shop Rite Plaza in Stamford.

Or maybe nothing happens and it’s just another much ado about nothing. For now. Over the years I’ve spoken to Greenwich business owners who’ve packed it in when the rent got too high, or foot traffic slowed down, when larger competitors appeared, or the Internet undercut them. Their dread is that one day the sum of those fears will become real. It’s a nice town we live in and our local businesses are doing their part to support it. Let’s make sure we do ours.

David Rafferty is a Greenwich resident.

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