Niantic looks to Mystic as business role model
East Lyme – With the doors set to open on the newest location of Sift Bake Shop on Saturday, some business owners see Niantic’s quaint Main-Street-with-a-view as a burgeoning Mystic.
Sift owner Adam Young said his first drive into the shoreline village lined with shops and restaurants conjured familiar memories.
“It was very, very reminiscent of Mystic 2016, when we first came here,” he said.
Two years after he and his wife, Ebbie, opened that flagship location in Mystic, Young watched the shop turn into a tourist destination with his 2018 victory in Food Network's "Best Baker in America" competition. Now, they’re bringing the same product line, the same amenities and about 25 new employees to 184 Main Street.
The Norton, a three-story, 32,928-square-foot building across from the bay, is a venture of K Blake and Company’s Eric Goodman, 36, and Kody Blake, 39. That’s the duo behind The Standard on Water Street in Mystic, where Young runs a chocolate and confections shop.
Young said his 90-hour-per-week work schedule has never afforded him much time to get out, so it wasn’t until Goodman took him to the site prior to construction that he first experienced East Lyme’s shimmering convergence with Niantic Bay.
The views in front of the shop and the 43 parking spaces behind it helped clinch the decision to say yes to Niantic when his friend Goodman approached him about becoming a tenant.
“A big part of our existing demographic that comes to Mystic, they’re hesitant to come in the summertime because of the lack of parking,” Young said.
Young cited supply chain issues involving electrical equipment to power the building as the reason behind the delay in Sift’s planned July opening. Instead, management trained new staff members at the Mystic location over the summer in preparation for the upcoming grand opening.
“We’re excited to get them into their new suite,” he said.
Pointing to other Mystic-based entrepreneurs whose business plans have included expansion into Niantic, Young singled out Ricky Au’s Spice Club and Leo Roche’s The Black Sheep pub. Au’s other restaurants include Pink Basil and Samurai Noodle Bar & Grill, while Roche owns The Harp and Hound.
The decorated baker said there’s another trend that bodes well for both areas: “We’ve seen a very high concentration of very talented folks in my industry come into Mystic within the past five to seven years, and I’d love to see a similar situation in Niantic.”
Sift will anchor the front of the building next to Anna Lathrop’s Gourmet Galley, which currently operates a catering business and flagship store in North Stonington.
Lathrop said she hopes to open before Thanksgiving. In addition to prepared meals, charcuterie offerings and specialty retail food products, she plans to offer dine-in service.
“You can order lunch at the counter, bring it to your seat and enjoy a glass of wine or a local beer with that,” she said. Seating for 20 people will include two sets of four window seats facing the bay.
Lathrop, too, described Niantic as evocative of a slower, less congested Mystic.
“The locals are very supportive and it hasn’t been overrun with tourists yet,” she said.
The two other commercial tenants will arrive after the holidays, according to Goodman. He said clothing, accessory and gift retailer Pearls and Plaid will open as an extension of its current Old Saybrook location. Home decor and gift shop Azalea will move over from its current Main Street location on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Elsewhere on Main Street, construction of a restaurant and taproom on the street level of the Morton House at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue is ongoing. Co-owner Andy Sklavouris, who is also a partner in Five Churches Brewery and Taproom in New Britain, said he’s hopeful Five Churches By the Bay will open in mid November.
Goodman said he is ready to close on five of The Norton’s 12 condominiums toward the end of month, including the penthouse. It was on the market for $1.2 million.
The other units range from $425,000 to $1 million, according to the developer. Local and state records show he purchased the property through a limited liability company in January for $850,000.
The building fills the space where Norton's Auto & Marine Service used to stand. Goodman said the late Tim Norton's son-in-law was the one who reached out to him to ask about reviving a development project first floated almost 10 years ago.
The site plan was renewed by the Zoning Commission last October after it was originally pitched by Norton back in 2013. The commission approved the plan unanimously both times.
Goodman said he’s heard from town officials about some complaints regarding traffic in and around Grand Street, where traffic enters at the back of the building.
Public works department director Joe Bragaw said the town painted white shoulder lines along Grand Street and Smith Avenue to both clarify parking spaces and to help calm traffic. He said the white edge lines on the road squeeze drivers into the travel lane instead of allowing them to use the whole road.
“We’re trying to slow traffic down a little bit on the street.”
Once it becomes clearer how much traffic the occupied building is going to generate, Bragaw said they will use the data on traffic volumes and patterns to come up with recommendations for any necessary improvements. It is up to the Police Commission, as the town’s traffic authority, to make the final approvals on most changes involving signage and road markings on local roads.
“The white edge lines were something we were trying to be proactive,” he said. “So we are trying to do some things in advance, but until we really see what kind of traffic volumes hit, we kind of have to sit back and see what happens.”
From Goodman’s point of view, increased traffic is inevitable when the south side of the street is zoned commercial and the north side is zoned residential. But he said that has its positives, too: He’s already seen properties in the immediate area selling at higher price points than before the project started.
“I think what we did in Niantic was a good addition to the downtown streetscape,” he said. “It’s not going to make everyone happy, but that was an underused property that’s going to contribute a significant amount of taxes and have a very low impact, and provide the parking that people are always concerned about.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify Azalea’s current location.
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