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    Friday, June 14, 2024

    Grocery stores, restaurants, recreation sites among residents’ requests for future retail in Groton

    Groton — Consumers in Groton enjoy going to rock concerts, night clubs and the zoo. They're very physically active and like outdoor activities, such as hiking and boating.

    They’re more concerned about cost than quality and are willing to shop around to find the best price.

    Those are some of the findings from a recent analysis of Groton’s retail market and consumers. Potential businesses looking to find markets that best suit them consider such data when deciding where to open a store, said Casey Kidd, CEO of Texas-based NaviRetail.

    The town hired NaviRetail to analyze the local market and see how to bring the types of businesses that residents want to Groton, said Paige Bronk, the town’s economic and community development manager. NaviRetail also surveyed businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic to find out what the challenges and opportunities were.

    The consulting firm presented its findings during a presentation, called “The Future of Retail in Groton,” held Tuesday evening at the Town Hall Annex.

    About 38,000 people live in Groton, but the number of consumers who consistently shop in Groton is larger: about 72,000 people who live in an area spanning from parts of Waterford to Stonington, according to NaviRetail’s analysis. Kidd explained that data from cellphones is a reliable way to see how far people are coming to eat, shop and do things in Groton.

    Kidd found that overall there’s an annual $600 million in “retail leakage,” meaning the amount of money that consumers who reliably shop in Groton spent at places outside of the town’s limits. The “retail leakage” represents an opportunity for the town to try to get people to instead spend that money in Groton and shop here for everything they need, he explained.

    That includes nearly $120 million just in cars not purchased in Groton, nearly $90 million in groceries that people bought elsewhere, and about $34 million in restaurant opportunities.

    The town also surveyed people on greatergroton.com, its online community engagement platform, about the retailers they’d like to see in Groton: Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, Stew Leonard’s, Market Basket, Boston Market, Pei Wei, Baja Fresh, Shake Shack, a new skating rink, a rock climbing gym, mini golf course, Apple store, restaurants and a small movie theater were among the establishments on people’s wish lists.

    People during Tuesday’s presentation asked questions, including how to help mom-and-pop stores, which don’t have all the research that larger corporations do, and what to do about fewer people shopping in person.

    Kidd said the town can play a role in helping mom-and-pop stores that want to expand. He also said brick-and-mortar stores that provide an experience people can’t get online can help bring people into the stores, rather than shop online.

    Kidd said market demand drives whether or not a company locates to an area. When specifically asked by attendees about Trader Joe’s, Kidd said the market shows that while a Popeyes, which recently opened at 627 Long Hill Road in Groton, is a “safe bet,” it’s a riskier endeavor for a Trader Joe’s to open.

    “There’s a lot of reasons for that, and I’m not saying that the market’s not here — in fact, I believe that it might be — however, it’s riskier,” Kidd said.

    He said, “we know that there are people here right now that would eat at a Popeyes,” but “don’t necessarily know that there’s enough people to pay off the investment that something like Trader Joe’s would cost.”

    He said it’s not a “no” or an “end-of-the-line scenario,” but it’s harder and riskier and would require convincing someone to take a bigger risk or shifting some of that risk from the retailer to the developer, or from the developer back to the town.

    He explained that Tax Increment Financing is one tool used to provide incentives for developments. “TIF is a financing tool that can be used by municipalities to invest in economic development,” according to the town’s policy. “It allows some or all of public and/or private costs associated with development to be financed over time by increases in the property tax revenues that are generated by the new development or redevelopment.”

    To speed up retail development overall, Kidd said it’s important to know the demographics of an area; have a plan for new development; for the town and stakeholders to be connected; for funds to be available for needed infrastructure and other development; and for the town to be dedicated to working with the retailer and making things easy.

    Kidd said the firm typically targets 25 to 30 potential retailers for each municipality it works in, but tries to not publicly share the information until the retailer locates to the area. The firm generated a list of potential retailers for Groton to use for “internal use” when contacting them and working with the town.

    NaviRetail specializes in retail, but Kidd said housing, industry and health care also are important for economic development.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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