Shopping plaza fills a neighborhood niche

The Melba Street Plaza doesn’t look fancy from the outside: The 21,000-square-foot plaza, consisting of two buildings, is made of brick, and it would seem to be off the beaten track.

But the neighborhood plaza is thriving, retailers located there said, largely because of its location. Kathy Klein, who owns Kathy’s Cookies and operates out of the plaza, said the little shopping center fills a neighborhood niche.

“I’ve been here three years in April,” said Klein, whose famous cookies and other baked goods make up a wholesale and retail business.

“My lease was up downtown, and people kept telling me to drive by this place. I thought it was off the beaten path, but I knew if I moved in others would follow. And believe me, customers do find you.”

The plaza, which the Waterbury-based Lombard Group owns, has been pretty much filled. The three spots in the building Klein occupies are filled: There’s her shop, which she shares with SuzieCakes Cupcakery; the Crushed Grape, which is a package store that hosts wine and beer tastings and sells a full selection of alcoholic beverages; and the Lucky Laundromat.

The building next door had been occupied by the Beachside Market until recently. It is now empty, but retailers say they hear a dollar shop will be opening there soon.

Also located on the 4.13-acre site is T-Mobile, which has cell towers there.

“The plaza is situated in a highly populated residential area and benefits from that proximity,” states the Lombard Group’s website.

Klein said it’s the neighborhood that makes the plaza successful.

“People don’t have to go far to get wine, baked goods or their clothing cleaned,” Klein said. “Lots of times people who come into my shop already have a bottle of wine they bought at the Crushed Grape.”

Greg Davies opened the Crushed Grape in May, and said it was the neighborhood aspect that attracted him.

“It’s about being in a neighborhood and part of a community,” Davies said. “I like the neighborhood and grew up in the neighborhood.”

Business is ok, he said, explaining that the economy and storms have taken a bit of a toll. Also, when Beachside Market closed it took with it some of the foot traffic.

But he’s hopeful that a new shop will boost that foot traffic again.

Darlene Delaney, who owns SuzieCakes with Sue Schowerer, said she recently moved her business to the plaza because she saw it as an established shopping plaza that could give her what she needs.

Already she’s found it does suit her needs. She gets local customers, and customers who drive from far away for her cupcakes.

Businesses that do their homework and know their demographics typically do better in the long run, said Chamber of Commerce President Kathy Alagno. She said that’s why the Crushed Grape, Kathy’s Cookies and the others are prospering: “They’re in tune with their community.”

On the flip side, having occupied retail space is good for the neighborhood.

“It’s a very positive, quality-of-life issue to have energy and activity in any neighborhood,” Alagno said.

Economic Development Director Robert Gregory added, “The Melba Street plaza has always been a neighborhood resource. The addition of Crushed Grape and the cookie and cupcake place make it somewhat of a destination for others to come there.”