In the middle of Stamford sits Stamford Town Center, once a massive mall that drew in shoppers regionally. Now it’s a mall with a lot of empty storefronts. As of January, 86% of the mall storefronts were occupied. The portion of the mall owned by Taubman is up for sale. Macy’s, which is the flagship store, has a lease ending soon.
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“Malls are a gateway to the past, and people just aren’t going into them anymore,” said Tom Madden, executive director of economic development in Stamford.
So what happens to a space that makes up much of the city’s downtown? Madden says there isn’t a frantic search to bring in large retailers. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
“Part of what we look at, the mall is key to completely redoing the downtown,” said Madden. “To go from bringing everybody in and shooting them out to creating a space within the downtown where the mall and its transition [is] the heartbeat of downtown.”
Madden envisions large windows to make being indoors seem like outdoors, putting in doctor’s offices, even classrooms.
“We are going in a much different direction, so as we plan out our city we focus on how we can have the best city and our services,” said Madden.
Just up I-95 North in Norwalk lies the brand-new SoNo Collection, a shopping mall with upscale anchors Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. It opened in October 2019 and was shut down for 65 days due to the pandemic. Property manager Matt Seebeck says more and more people are feeling comfortable shopping and walking through the mall’s doors.
“They are going to find that all the tenants open before the COVID closure have reopened, and we added five more tenants,” he said.
In May, Nordstrom announced it was closing some stores nationwide due to financial hardships caused by the pandemic, though the one in Norwalk still stands. Macy’s, which owns Bloomingdale’s, announced over 100 store closures pre-pandemic.
Still, Seebeck said he remains confident that in-person shopping is not a thing of the past.
“We are welcoming guests back who are appropriately and safely engaging with some level of life and some normalcy they were used to,” said Seebeck. “Snacking on some pretzels, grabbing some coffee with family, and doing so safely.”
Seebeck says the plan is to partner with the community to use mall space for activities like chess leagues, line dancing and yoga classes.