From restaurants to fitness studios to clothing shops to everything in between, Darien has seen an increase in new business in 2018, according to Susan Cator, president and executive director of the Darien Chamber of Commerce.
“In the past year, there has been new commercial development that has brought in new business, which has stimulated and created a new area for people to shop, dine, get their hair cut and be fit,” Cator said.
Many of these new businesses are concentrated up and on Boston Post Road, as well as in the Goodwives Shopping Center and in Noroton Heights, according to Cator.
New eateries include Bistro Baldanza, taking the place of Estia’s; Darien Grille, Roost, and Flour Water Salt, a bakery.
In terms of exercise facilities and physical therapy places, Dance on the DL, Danny’s Cycles, OsteoStrong wellness center, Elevate Physical Therapy, and Pure Barre fitness studio have opened in the past year.
Clothing stores include Sokayri Atelier and Boutique, J McLaughlin, and Coco and Lala.
Other new businesses 2018 has seen include Johnny’s & Company hair salon, Bankwell, Sipstirs wine shop, which took over for Nicholas Roberts, To And From nail salon, Salt Cave spa, and Huntington Learning Center.
As far as movement within town, the location where Caffe Nero coffee house just moved into, at 1075 Boston Post Road, stood empty for 18 months. Verizon, which was previously in that location, moved two doors down, to 1077 Post Road, where Jos. A. Bank had been. Jos. A. Bank has closed.
Kirby & Company, a boutique and coffee bar on the Post Road, expanded and opened Kirby Girl, at 14 Brook Street. Kirby Girl is in the location where Sylvan Learning Center had been. Sylvan has closed.
Beadz Boutique has also closed.
J. McLaughlin opened in November in the Merrill Lynch Building, at 1020 Boston Post Road. Morley, a women’s clothing store that had previously occupied that space, moved to 1094 Boston Post Road.
David Genovese, president of Baywater Properties in Darien, said he has seen more businesses opening in 2018 than “in any year in recent memory.”
“A lot of great stuff happened this [past] year,” he said, adding he is “very excited” about the prospects for 2019.
Genovese has led numerous key developments in downtown Darien, the most recent of which is the recently approved Corbin Project, a mixed-use redevelopment spanning from Corbin Drive to the Bank of America building on Post Road.
Looking ahead, Barrett Bookstore, at 314 Heights Road, will move to 4 Corbin Drive in April and become a part of the Corbin project.
Also, Cold Play Cryotherapy wellness center will open this month at 1082 Boston Post Road, which will be a second location for this Greenwich-based business.
Genovese added that retail is strong in town. “A year or two ago, when the dominant conversation around downtowns everywhere was around the death of retail, there was fear that we would only see new fitness studios or other non-retail businesses opening.”
He said, however, that based on feedback he’s receiving around town, “retail is actually coming back and Darien is now perceived as a market.”
He said he heard in the past from some stores that he tried to recruit, that Darien “did not have a critical mass of retail.”
This has since changed, he said.
According to Genovese, retailers generally are very focused on having other good stores in town. “We call this co-tenancy,” he said. “With more stores opening, more stores seem to want to come. This is a significant change (from the past).”
When attracting businesses to town, the experience of the customer is a “key” ingredient, Genovese said. “People want a high level of service and a different kind of experience.”
Genovese said more “exciting” stores and businesses have opened this year in Darien since 2008.
“I believe that this is because of the work that we have all done — Baywater, other property owners, and the Planning and Zoning Commission — over many years,” he said.
“It takes time to build a great downtown, and you have to make many incremental changes that people do not always notice as they are occurring,” Genovese said. “(Yet), when you look back over the last 10 to 15 years, there are so many choices of places to shop and dine now in Darien, and with each new business opening, our presentation to new retailers or restaurateurs becomes more compelling.”
Cator said there is a “really exciting vibe” now in Darien, adding that the stores in town offer very original items and services.
“The nicest thing about Darien is that 98% of our businesses are unique and have very special offerings in whatever category they do business in,” she said. “We aren’t a strip of cookie cutter shops.”