What do residents want in Trumbull Center? Readers share ideas

TRUMBULL — More than seven years after Porricelli’s Food Mart closed its doors, residents still hope to see a new grocery store occupy the vacant space in Trumbull Center.

The closing of Porricelli’s, which anchored the shopping center for a decade, left Trumbull with just one grocery store in town — the Stop & Shop on Quality Street. Residents have long clamored for a specialty grocery store like Trader Joe’s or Aldi. But with neither of those likely to open in Trumbull, it appears residents just want another supermarket.

In an informal online poll conducted by the Connecticut Post, more than 1,000 residents weighed in over two days, 88 percent of whom wanted some sort of grocery option. Specifically, 65.6 percent said a Trader Joe’s would be perfect for the site, another 11 percent hoped for a Whole Foods and 11.4 percent voted for a generic “food/grocery store.”

Other responses included a bowling alley (5.5 percent) and a Buffalo Wild Wings (6.4 percent).

The results did not come as a surprise to Economic and Community Development Director Rina Bakalar.

“Over the past few years, we’ve probably reached out to every grocery store,” Bakalar said.

The problem, Bakalar said, is that although Trumbull residents consider Stop & Shop to be the only grocery store in town, grocers consider that Trumbull actually has three supermarkets.

“They look at how many grocery stores there are within a five-mile radius, and they look at Target as a grocer,” she said. “The two Targets on either end of town — they may not be full-scale supermarkets, but they give people the option of going there to pick up groceries.”

As for a Trader Joe’s, Bakalar said she is in regular contact with the California-based specialty food chain that is owned by the same parent company as the Aldi discount food store chain.

“They know what they’re doing. They have a sophisticated way of looking at the data, and geographically we just don’t fit,” she said. “I reach out to them periodically to see if anything changes, but I don’t see them putting a store between their Milford and Fairfield stores.”

The other problem with placing a new tenant in Trumbull Center is the layout of the shopping center itself. Peter DiNardo Enterprises, which is the owner of the 900 White Plains Road property, states on its website that the center first opened in 1954. DiNardo was unavailable to comment on this story. The 45,000-square-foot property sits on just over eight acres, and the web listing mentions upcoming renovations.

Renovations at Trumbull Center have been a topic of conversation in town for years. In 2016, two other buildings on the site received upgrades including new storefronts and a new roof and HVAC. The shopping center at 921 White Plains Road, across the street, also received major upgrades in 2016.

The property at 965 White Plains Road, a former office building, is currently under construction. When complete, the property will house the Starbucks, CVS and several other businesses now located in Trumbull Center.

The goal is to move those businesses across the street and level the building that currently houses them, which would open up more space.

“Retail tenants want visibility. The building blocks the view from the street,” Peter DiNardo told Hearst Connecticut Media in 2016.

DiNardo also said the size of the former Porricelli’s location worked against replacing it with a grocery store.

“I think the economy has a lot to do with the fact that it’s still vacant. ... It’s almost too small for the modern prototype food stores and it’s a little too big for the smaller users. It’s sort of in a middle size,” DiNardo said.

Community suggestions

For their part, residents had plenty of suggestions about what the town and property owners should be doing with the property. The poll generated 57 comments on the Trumbull Times’ Facebook page.

Although many of the commentators repeated their hope for a Trader Joe’s or other specialty market, some had other ideas, like having the town buy the land for the proposed senior center. Other suggestions focused on creating a place for people to go and have fun.

“A bowling alley would be a good idea. The ones built or renovated today are so much nicer and it could have food and drinks as well,” said one commentator.

Another also voted for a recreational option.

“A really nice, upscale place to play pool and get a bite, like Boston Billiards once was. There is NOTHING like that around here,” the person wrote.

One commentator said the entire shopping center needed to be leveled and started over from scratch.

“The whole area needs a complete redevelopment, not just a couple establishments coming in. ... Trumbull is way behind the times of a proper, healthy, walkable and economic center. Such a shame.”

Others urged the town to pass an ordinance to encourage the owner to make redevelopment a priority.

“Nothing’s going to happen with this space in the first place if Trumbull doesn’t make changes to encourage the owner to rent it out. Start with a vacancy tax,” they wrote.

Reporter Kristi Allen contributed to this story.