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GREENWICH, CT-While Manhattan is arguably the town center for the entire New York metropolitan area, destinations such as Greenwich, CT have viable, self-supporting retail districts that brokers say provide a welcome alternative to regional malls.

Annette Healey, a director with Insignia/ESG who specializes in retail, says the popularity of regional malls is waning because the “one-big-vanilla-shell” concept, while economical, “interferes with the organism of street life. People relate more to low-rise buildings where they can shop, pop in here and there and have it be more friendly.” She says there is a “yearning for the ability to move from one kind of shopping environment to another quickly and without having to make so much of a commitment.”

Greenwich, Healey says, “is the quintessential town center.” Shoppers spending an afternoon on Greenwich Avenue can “pop into Saks, go in and out, and park your car in one place, outside.”

And parking is a major consideration for Greenwich town officials as well as would-be retailers, according to Healey. Municipal parking runs along Greenwich Avenue behind the retail strip and merchants who want to expand or establish themselves in Greenwich have to work with the town to maintain the balance of available parking and retail development. “Part of the whole deal with the town is that you have to put in a certain number of parking spaces in order to get a certain amount of retail approved.”

While the Northeast’s retail industry was originally based on the town-center model, today, Healey says, less stable, lower-income towns than Greenwich “have had the life sucked out of them” by regional malls. Still, many smaller towns manage to maintain central retail centers, “and then they have outlying strip centers for more value-oriented shopping.”

One town that currently is deciding on the future of its retail presence is New Haven, CT, Healey says. “They want to do a retail development and they’re not sure how they want to do it.” Healey says that while bottom-line considerations will ultimately decide whether the town opts for a traditional town center or a big-box concept, vision and skill are also key components in the decision-making process. “It depends on whether or not the developer will be creative enough,” she says.

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