‘We’re still here’: Business as Usual for Darien Shops as Downtown Transformation Begins

DARIEN — Downtown Darien’s transformative project, the Corbin District project, is finally happening — and all the shops in the area want residents to know they are operating business as usual.

Work on the first phase of downtown redevelopment has begun, with the Gulf gas station closed, and two buildings behind it along Corbin Drive vacated and the sites fenced off and being prepped for removal.

Baywater Properties’ David Genovese , who has spearheaded this downtown redevelopment plan since 2005 with Penny Glassmeyer, said completing this major construction project was only part of his team’s work — they also took great care in making sure all the businesses were relocated so there would be no disruption to their operations.

“We needed to take care of Darien’s local businesses. … That was important to us,” Genovese said.

Businesses impacted in phase one of the project were Mathnasium, which moved from the Corbin Drive location to 1084 Post Road; Dynamic Martial Arts, to 1540 Post Road; and the Butler Tibbetts law firm and Tibbetts Real Estate, which Genovese said moved to a Brook Street site, as well as to a Southport location. In all, six businesses have been relocated. Previously, the Baywater team worked to relocate Paws & Reflect, EPOD and Darien Shoe Repair.

“We are proud that we were able to relocate every tenant,” Genovese said. “We found new homes for each of them.”

Genovese said the first phase is estimated to take some 15 months to complete, at which point the second phase will begin, and another set of businesses will be relocated.

The Corbin District project is a mixed-use redevelopment of downtown Darien proposed by Baywater Properties and PG Properties. It has a 7.17-acre site area spanning from Corbin Drive to the Bank of America building at 1120 Boston Post Road.

The project involves demolishing all buildings within the Corbin area and building a mixed-use development with retail, restaurant, office and residential uses; creating new off-street parking and internal drives; creating new public plaza areas; and performing related site development activities within a regulated area.

Baywater’s plans for the area include 116 new one- and two-bedroom apartments and an increase in retail and office space.

Existing office space would grow from 45,961 to 81,200 square feet while retail space would increase from 52,579 to 81,730 square feet. Another 16,910 square feet of restaurant space would be added to the ground level of the project.

“I am 100 percent supportive of this. … I just wish it had started sooner,” said Bill Jensen, owner of Darien Toy Box.

“Darien didn’t really have a downtown, just a couple stores and (the Post Road) running down the middle,” Jensen added. “Now we will have a vibrant downtown … new stores, crosswalks, pedestrian traffic. There’s a younger generation coming into town, and now people can come to downtown for things that would have normally gone to Stamford, Greenwich, even New York City to get.”

Jensen said his business will be moving twice by the time the construction on both sides of Corbin Drive is complete, but that does not temper his enthusiasm about his business’ future.

“This is exciting,” he said. “Downtown is going to be a place where things happen, people will be able to park and walk. There are so many great places in this downtown now, and it is only going to get better.

“We’re all still here. … We’re not going anywhere,” Jensen said.

Gage DeDemonicis, owner of Dynamic Martial Arts, said his move from the now vacant Corbin Drive location to 1054 Boston Post Road, away from downtown, was smooth, with no impact on business since his move in mid-July.

He said his operation, which offers martial arts training to all age groups, will be moving back to the Corbin Drive space once the construction is complete.

“Moving, in our industry, is a risk, but we kept everyone informed and (Genovese) was great about helping us relocate during construction,” said DeDemonicis, who took over the business in 2018. “We have a group, like a family, here, and they all helped make this a smooth transition.”

Rosey Costello, owner of Everything is Rosey, is also excited about the new construction. She, like Jensen, will remain in her present location until phase one is complete.

“I always knew it. … (Genovese) told me when I signed my lease nine years ago that this was planned,” said Costello, a 25-year Darien resident. “I was always on board with improving the town.”

She said the buildings along the Post Road near Corbin Drive are old, built in 1955, and have regular maintenance and mechanical issues, so the new building in which her business will sit will be a welcome change.

Costello, like other business owners, praised Genovese, Baywater Properties and PG Properties for the help in relocating and always being available for questions or assistance.

“They are incredible landlords,” Costello said.

Page Berger, of Barrett Bookstore said the bookstore, long a staple in Noroton Heights, has been on the first floor of the 10 Corbin Drive building for two years. The store will need to be relocated during phase two construction.

“We are fully open and will continue to be,” Berger said.

Berger said relocating to downtown has been a boon for business, thanks to the large amount of parking and pedestrian traffic.

“We’re extremely pleased with this location,” she said. “We’re here. … It’s a great place to be.”

Mathnasium owner David Lubner said he moved into his new space at 1082 Post Road last month. While the move was challenging, he remains excited about being downtown.

“We’ve moved to a more visible location … fresh, clean, but still the same Mathnasium,” Lubner added.