Charged with examining what, if anything, the Town can do to help increase local business in New Canaan, the has sought answers through focus groups, public meetings and an online survey.
They will present the results of those efforts at a Public Forum on Nov. 3, said MDSC Chair, John Goodwin, who also sits on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Diane Roth, owner of , said there is a definite problem downtown today, "I've been here twenty-six years and I've never seen so few people on the street," she said.
As a retailer she said, the biggest challenge she faces is competing not just against stores in neighboring towns and malls, but the internet.
"All you're selling is service, that's how you sell against the internet and New York," Roth said, "I know the client, greet them by name ... have personal knowledge about their likes and dislikes ... and trust and honesty, if people put something on and it's horrible, I say so."
In addition retailers, she said, need to work together to promote mutual business, "I do 90% of my shopping in New Canaan ... I know the stores, I know what they have." Roth said she said she loves to direct her customers to other New Canaan merchants.
The chef/owner of , Paul Mauk, sees a different challenge to his business. "There's just too many restaurants," he said. "That's just my opinion. At some point I would assume there'd be a tipping point." Mauk said, weekdays and the winter months are a particular challenge. "People not in the business don't understand that we are in competition with one another," he said.
Mauk also pointed to the cost of renting space in town, which he said does not accurately reflect the current economic climate.
At the MDSC's Sept. 20 meeting, consultants BFJ Planning presented preliminary results, including the decline in the number of retail establishments in town, and the increase in full-service restaurants from fifteen in 2000 to twenty-five in 2010.
The results at that time also pointed to the percentage of dollars spent by New Canaan residents outside of town. The report states, "In the aggregate, nearly two in every three dollars of resident spending in retail trade and food service establishments occurs outside of New Canaan ...".
They highlighted certain retail categories missing in town, which they said could reasonably be present, specifically convenience goods shopping like food and beverage, health and personal care and florists.
Highlighting one category in particular the report said, "The absence of Specialty food stores --- like bakeries, confectioners, fish stores, fruit and vegetable markets --- is especially noteworthy for a high-income area of locavore tastes."
The public survey portion of their investigation, which went offline on Oct. 7, will be reviewed at the Committee's Oct. 27 meeting prior to the Public Forum. It sought to learn more about the consumer habits of town residents and beyond. Questions to respondents included:
- How often and when they dine and shop downtown
- What they value in a shopping experience: service, convenience, value
- Internet purchases
- Their feelings about additional chain stores in New Canaan
- What businesses they would like to see fill vacant storefronts