Wilton Center needs higher profile for business success

Dominick Musilli, founder and managing partner of True Commercial Real Estate LLC.

Dominick Musilli, founder and managing partner of True Commercial Real Estate LLC.

Contributed photo

Wilton’s retail market has improved considerably, but it still has a long way to go, according to commercial real estate expert Dominick Musilli, who spoke with the Economic Development Commission on Sept. 11.

Musilli, who is founder and managing partner of True Commercial Real Estate LLC, said things are looking up, but the town really needs to make an effort to put itself on the Fairfield County map.

“I was born and raised in Stamford and I didn’t know Wilton Center existed,” he said.

As an example of what’s percolating, he said the proposed development Wilton Heights is generating a significant amount of commercial interest from local and regional retailers, restaurants and services. The project at the intersection of Routes 33 and 7 will be a mix of residential and retail.

“The location is fantastic — being at 33 and Route 7 — a lot of people think that is the best location in Wilton,” he said, adding “it won’t take away from Wilton Center, it will complement Wilton Center.”

Of that development, for which his company is handling commercial leasing, he expects the owners to close on the property in November and estimated construction would begin in the spring or summer of 2021 and opening later that year. The delay, he said, is due to the amount of site work that has to be done before construction can begin.

More success is being seen in the Wilton River Park Plaza where a Great Clips hair salon will be opening and a SoBol eatery will come in as well.

In the Kent Center on Route 7 in south Wilton, a lash studio just opened and there is interest in another vacancy, Musilli said.

“I really like what’s going on in the Stop & Shop Center,” he said, referring to the River Park Plaza. “It’s really coming to life with restaurants.

“Shopping centers never liked restaurants,” he said, because of the number of parking spaces patrons took up. “But now, landlords are really embracing restaurants because they see what they can do. They bring people in. The trouble with Wilton is as we’re creating more activity in shopping centers … is to get people who are not shopping in Wilton to shop in Wilton — people in north Wilton, people in south Wilton.”

Competition comes from strong retail markets in Danbury, Westport and Stamford, he said. On the flip side, he thinks the new SoNo Mall in Norwalk will have “zero impact” here because Wilton is not a destination market, it’s convenience oriented. “A mall doesn’t care for a consumer’s daily needs,” he said. It will have more impact, he thought, on Greenwich, Trumbull, Stamford and maybe even White Plains, N.Y.

Activity or inactivity will spell success or failure for Wilton’s retail market.

“You need the activity,” he said. “Any successful commercial market needs to be where people live, where they shop and they work. You need that all combined and obviously, Wilton has the people who live here, the shopping’s lacking a little bit but it’s getting better and people work.”

But a market also need visitors. What will make a difference is creating awareness, particularly through a website and perhaps offering events downtown, such as music, and thinking outside the box. The Alive@Five summer concert series in Stamford draws from 25 miles away, he said.

“I’ve driven people here from the Gap, Chick-fil-A, they say it’s beautiful, but people from New Canaan, they’ll never shop here,” he said.