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Friday, April 20 News

With Saks set to close in Stamford, no word yet on replacement

Mall losing top store: Officials say potential tenants may demand updates, better curb appeal

As Saks Fifth Avenue winds down its final weeks in the Stamford Town Center mall, shoppers and retail watchers in the area are still anxiously waiting to learn what store will take the place of the luxury retailer.

Taubman Co., the mall's owner, is yet to provide a time frame for an announcement or identify any possible suitors for the 78,000-square-foot space. Asked about the status on Monday, Meredith Keeler, the general manager for the Stamford Town Center, said only that ownership was "looking at a variety of options."

Saks first announced the planned closure of its upscale chain in February 2013, attributing the decision to a routine assessment of the "productivity, profitability, and potential" of each of its store locations. The news release stated that the Stamford store, which employs 80 people, would close in early 2014.

Reached by phone, a representative at the Stamford store referred questions to the corporate office. A Saks Inc. representative said Monday the company had no comment on the closing date.

Long considered a destination for luxury shopping, Saks Fifth Avenue debuted in Stamford in 1983. Along with Macy's, which occupies 245,000 square feet, it has been considered an anchor tenant for the mall. The Stamford Town Center has 767,000 square feet of leasable space, according to the Taubman Co.'s website.

"It will not be easy to find somebody," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting firm based in New Canaan. "If Taubman had been able to line up Nordstrom's or Nieman Marcus, they would have announced that long ago."

Referring to the long-maligned fortress-like structure of the mall, Johnson added: "It's a pillbox or bunker from the outside. It doesn't present the level of opportunity that other stores might enjoy at other locations."

However, Norman Lotstein, a commercial broker specializing in retail, said he was seeing an uptick in the number and kinds of retailers interested in coming to Stamford.

He warned that negotiations with prospective tenants can take considerable time.

"Right now, in particular where retailers are in the driver's seat, they are making more demands than they may have otherwise made," Lotstein said.

He added that the choice to replace Saks represented a critical decision for the mall. "It's very important for the mall to select somebody who is ideally suited to complement the other stores," he said.

The Stamford Town Center mall has long been considered a challenge for retailers because of its sprawling multi-level indoor parking complex, seen as difficult to navigate for shoppers, and for its lack of curb appeal due to the complex's largely enclosed setting.

In 2007, Taubman introduced a new southern entrance and outdoor plaza along Tresser Boulevard and Greyrock Place. The estimated $50 million redesign included the arrival of Barnes & Noble -- touted as the largest in the state -- and four new restaurants: P.F. Chang's, China Bistro, California Pizza Kitchen, Kona Grill and Cosi.

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City officials applauded the change, but have argued that the mall needs to do more, pointing to the Saks' entrance in front of Veteran's Park as an example. Many have found the area to be cloistered and unwelcoming. The doors to Saks stand atop a long staircase.

Sandy Goldstein, the president of the Downtown Special Services District, said there has long been talk about improving the entrance. She suggested that with Saks' departure, it may happen.

"If they find the appropriate tenant, then there will be curbside appeal," she said. "No one is going to come in the way it is."

elizabeth.kim@scni.com; 203-964-2265; http://twitter.com/lizkimtweets