CFA President Wayne Pesce was interviewed and featured in the Stamford Advocate article featured below.

Original article can be found at the Stamford Advocate.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Stamford grocers proliferate even as downtown awaits a store of its own

STAMFORD — The city is not running low on grocery stores.

While Stamford’s lineup of grocers continues to change — as shown by one major departure in recent weeks — its inventory of supermarkets remains ample. The industry’s local strength has not gone unnoticed — as shown by recent eight-figure deals for supermarket properties. And in a quickly growing city, many see opportunities to add more stores to Stamford’s grocery list.

“The overall market for grocery retailers in the state of Connecticut remains hyper-competitive,” said Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, which represents multistore chains, regional firms and independent supermarkets.

A robust market

About a dozen major supermarkets now operate throughout Stamford. That roster includes a Fairway Market in the South End, Grade A Markets in Newfield and Glenbrook, a ShopRite on the West Side, a Grade A ShopRite in Cove, Stop & Shops on the West Side and in the city center, Acme and Trader Joe’s establishments on High Ridge Road and a Target grocery store in the downtown.

The local grocery sector suffered a setback with the recent closing of Mrs. Green’s Natural Market on High Ridge Road. Recent tweets from the Mrs. Green’s Twitter account reported supply issues, but those problems did not necessarily contribute to the closing.

A message left for the parent company of Mrs. Green’s was not returned.

Other local supermarkets have also faced corporate instability. The parent company of Fairway Market filed in May for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, even as the Fairway on Canal Street has continued regular operations.

The city’s burgeoning population — it now ranks No. 3 in the state, with close to 130,000 residents — has created strong and sustained demand for grocery shopping. The total square footage of grocery stores in the city has more than doubled in the past 25 years, according to Stamford Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jack Condlin.

“It’s no longer at the stage where we once were of being grossly underserved,” Condlin said. “As more people move here, more people need to buy groceries. The grocery market has done pretty well.”

Stamford supermarkets also represent sought-after properties in the real estate market. The West Side property that houses an approximately 83,000-square-foot Stop & Shop sold in October for about $45 million to a Queens, N.Y., firm.

In July, the Newfield Green shopping center sold for about $42 million. The property includes an approximately 32,000-square-foot Grade A Market.

Grade A’s presence contributed to Newfield Green’s appeal, said James Aries, senior vice president of the firm that bought the property, Urstadt Biddle Properties. Urstadt Biddle also owns the Ridgeway Shopping Center in the city center, a complex that includes an approximately 60,000-square-foot Stop & Shop.

“We favor safety over sexy any day,” Aries said in an interview earlier this year. “We love grocery store- and drugstore-anchored shopping centers. They give the property long-term stability. We believe those types of properties are less susceptible to e-commerce and economic downturns.”

The Connecticut Food Association’s Pesce said that he sees growth potential for Connecticut grocery stores in health and wellness products and services. A number of Stamford’s grocery stores feature pharmacies and wellness programs.

“This trend is only set to grow, providing new opportunities for retailers to create personalized offerings for the ‘self-aware shopper’ and to position themselves as partners in their customer’s wellness journey,” Pesce said.

Room for growth

The city’s grocery sector could accommodate more establishments, according to a number of local business leaders. While it includes the Target grocery store on Broad Street, the downtown lacks a dedicated supermarket within walking distance of most of its residents.

“If you want to walk, then you have precious few opportunities to grocery shop in the downtown,” said Sandy Goldstein, president of the Stamford Downtown Special Services District. “That has been a sore spot for us for years because there are now close to 10,000 people living in downtown, and we’d love to have a specialty market or a terrific supermarket. We have great demographics, with residents with significant income and education and money to spend.”

Several city centers, including the vacant lot at the corner of Greyrock Place and Tresser Boulevard, could accommodate such an establishment, Goldstein said.

The city’s grocery stores will continue to complement each other because customers increasingly shop at multiple establishments, said Urstadt Biddle’s Aries.

“Grocery-store shopping is no longer one-stop-shop shopping,” Aries said in an interview this week. “There’s greater specialization now among the grocery stores. Stop & Shop focuses on bread-and-butter products and is going to do a great job at that. I don’t think the likes of Fairway or Stew Leonard’s do that as well, so they’ll make money selling products that cost more, but are harder to find.”

While brick-and-mortar operations still constitute a vital part of their operations, grocery businesses cannot overlook the impact of e-commerce, Pesce said.

“If you’re a grocery retailer in Connecticut you acutely understand the competitive threat posed by Amazon, Fresh Direct, Instacart or any other online retailer,” Pesce said. “Some traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are waist deep in the game while others are doubling down efforts on personalized shopping experiences.”

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