Letter: Big box stores make business tough for Norwalk little guys

By Rod Lopez-Fabrega

NORWALK, Conn. – In recent days, I had an indirect lesson about the unintended effects of big box stores to small retailers here in Norwalk. In the market for floor tiles to redo a bathroom in my home, I visited a retailer of flooring materials that has been in Norwalk since the year one.  Not so long ago, this establishment had to downsize from a well-located and spacious site on Main Street to a less than desirable store front with no parking.

I had to ask the owner about the effects of having to downsize to such an inconspicuous location. He explained that his urgent requests to City Hall to provide him with three parking spaces in front of his modest store front had become a nightmare of bureaucratic double-talk. Ultimately, he was informed that such parking would cost him $10,000 for each of three spaces. Then, he was informed there were no available in front of his store. When he asked where they would be located, he was told that, in any case, there were not spaces available anywhere anyway. His next question was to clarify if he then was being asked to pay $30,000 for three parking spaces that did not even exist. No answer is recorded.  Mr. Store Owner and I could only conclude those humongous parking lots in front of Total Wine, Lowes, CVS and so many other big boxes in Norwalk left no parking real estate for the little guys.

I suggested to Mr. Store Owner that he consider voting for Harry Rilling during the coming elections. Harry has come out forcefully, pointing out the effect these monsters have on the mom and pop merchants in this town, their Norwalk-based employees and the trust they have built up in the community after decades of the services they have provided to all of us. Months ago Harry Rilling had this to say on the subject, “I’ve talked to many Norwalkers who ask themselves these same questions, and the answer is simple: neighboring communities are pursuing better development for their communities while Norwalk keeps approving the big box stores under our welcoming zoning regulations. And all-the-while our local mom and pop businesses are wondering if they’ll be the next one forced to close under pressure from these multi-national corporations.”

Rod Lopez-Fabrega


17 responses to “Letter: Big box stores make business tough for Norwalk little guys”

  1. Tim T

    Rod Lopez-Fabrega
    Oh please with your never ending support of Rilling . Rilling is full of empty promises in his bid to be mayor the same as when he was as police consultant. It would take a complete moron to believe that Rilling is going to change the demise of the mom and pop store. This is not a Norwalk or CT issue it is the way of the future. The day of mom and pop stores thankfully are over. They are known for poor service, poor selection. poor return polices , poor hours, poor location and high prices. I and most welcome the big box retailer as if the were not welcome they would not survive. FYI it looks like they are surviving pretty well.

  2. Norwalk Lifer

    having to pay 10K for a parking space, is legislated extortion; in my view, the mayor ought to stop attending ribbon cuttings of small businesses since he is so small business adverse; and insofar as service, goods, and other attributes of small businesses are concerned, the reality is every business started out as a small business.

    Whether it was HP in a garage in Menlo Park Ca, or any other entity, Charging private business owners such ridiculous fees for parking is outrageous; we are paying for the parking in the first place, and then our pockets get double dipped when we buy goods and services from small businesses, that’s robbery, and this town could do better, but then again, there are small minded people making large decisions at city hall.

    What do you expect?

    Norwalk Lifer

  3. Osgood Schlater

    Tell your story about mom and pop stores to New Canaan, a town that has studiously avoided big boxes and has a vibrant downtown with no empty store fronts. The big box malls that line Connecticut Avenue have gutted downtown Norwalk. They could have been the site of another Merritt Seven, instead of acres of asphalt. City planning in Norwalk is abysmal.

  4. M. Murray’s

    Not sure that New Caanan is an appropriate comparison due to size and per-capita income. Comparisons should be made wit Stamford, Bridgeport, and other similar sized cities with similar populations.

  5. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    Tim T: You demonstrate the bulldozer compassion of the Republican Party for the little guys of America–the 90% of us.

  6. Suzanne

    Darien, although not the same demographic, has a “Buy Local” policy. I regularly go to this downtown for goods and services. Likewise, downtown Stamford with its various businesses, entertainment venues, pocket parks, sculpture and walkable streets, provides a communal setting unmatched in Norwalk – anywhere. The streets have atypical parking when compared to downtown Norwalk, but that slows the traffic and, as I have noticed, makes it pedestrian friendly. I had not been down to downtown Stamford in a while and was very impressed by the sense of neighborhood, culture with all kinds of people using those small parks filled with tended flower beds, good seating, open space enough to enjoy children running about under watchful caretakers. Not a big box in sight, BTW, with a couple of theaters, many restaurants and small businesses. Wake up, Norwalk, this is what a REAL town looks like.

  7. M Allen

    What part of Stamford are you people talking about? Downtown? Or are you talking about High Ridge Road. Route 1 in Norwalk is more comparable to High Ridge Road in Stamford. And comparing Norwalk to New Canaan, Darien or Westport is absurd. But we could obviously recreate what each of those TOWNS have by just rehabilitating our own downtown area, which by the way wasn’t killed by big box stores on Connecticut Avenue. It was killed by the city completely ignoring it in favor of gentrifying South Norwalk in a 4 block radius of the train bridge. So now we have “Historic South Norwalk” instead of “lovely downtown Norwalk”. We can have both. We just need to find a bulldozer and a developer who will do the job.

  8. Piberman

    When have Common Council members protested Big Box development ? Or voiced support for small business interests or concerns ? When Home Depot first proposed its Big Box hundreds of small business protested fearing they would be ruined. So they were. The only solution to Big Box over reach is electing Council members committed to appointing well qualified P&Z members. We get the governance we deserve.Welcome BJs.

  9. EveT

    The idea of charging a business owner $10K for each of three parking spaces is astounding. As an earlier comment says, that is extortion.

  10. M Allen

    No amount of change in P&Z members is going to stop the evolution of retailing away from those supopsed “Mom & Pop” stores you all remember from your halcyon days. The consumer has spoken and they want price, selection and convenience for mass market merchandise. If they can’t buy those items here they will travel or shop the internet. Mom & Pop niche retailers can continue to exist, but it isn’t our zoning that is keeping local businesses from being competitive. And some of you should know better.

  11. I don’t understand your story, Mr. Lopez-Fabrega. What was the store owner asking for, and what did the city want to charge him $30,000 for? Were the parking spaces on his own property?

  12. Dennis DeManis

    A guy who sits at a desk and buys merchandise for hundreds–or thousands–of chain store locations is no match for a savvy local indy retailer who knows his market and possesses a flair for selling products to the public. NO MATCH. The sharp indy can run rings around the big box.

    That said, any city government that fails to nurture indy retail should be kicked out of office.

  13. M Allen

    The city should be nurturing small retailers, but it can’t act as a crutch by simply placing a ban on large retailers. The city can’t beat back the evolution of retailing. It can’t overcome the choices made by consumers and that is: I’d prefer to buy local, but not if it means paying a higher price.
    Main Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, Westport Avenue are never going to be part of a legit “walkable city” environment. These are thoroughfares. But the city can devise areas where small retailers are best suited and become a destination for area residents. Downtown Norwalk would be an ideal location. Level the whole place and create a village environment. Downtown Norwalk, with its proximity to the river could be a lovely area for this kind of development. But it requires more vision than the POKO development is planning. Forget about Route 1 and Main Ave. They are what they are. But we have parts of town that can be so much more than what they are now, or perhaps ever were.

  14. Dennis DeManis

    Trying to ban the big chains never would have made sense. Those stores make sense for Norwalk. The big boxes draw consumers who will also flow into well-positioned independent specialty stores that offer a superior shopping experience. So the city must enable indy retailers, not obstruct them. Kid Vinny discussed this in the Hour. Rilling should open a sporting goods store and throw his support to the Kid.

  15. Don’t Panic

    Yes, the presence of Costco and WalMart really helped an independent specialty store offering a superior shopping experience.


  16. Dennis DeManis

    Big chain retailers had nothing to do with Sassafrass closing. There is no retail flow in Sono, just a few bars and a bunch of expensive eateries. If John Diorio was located next door to Walmart or Sh-tmart his unique fun gift/knick-knack shop would be prospering.

  17. M Allen

    I wonder if the candidates shop at Walmart or have memberships at Costco.

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