The pending opening of a Dunkin' Donuts franchise on Sound Beach Avenue in Old Greenwich is being met with trepidation from local merchants struggling to survive without competition in a business district that is dominated by locally-owned and operated Mom and Pop shops, rather than national chains.
News that a franchise of the Canton, MA-based coffee shop chain spread quickly through the town's hamlet this week, in less time that it takes to make a pot of automatic drip. Residents tweeted the news. One Old Greenwich resident tweeted, "Town res(idents) not happy about unhealthy chain store."
Nonetheless, merchants adjacent to the 184 Sound Beach Ave. storefront — where was — say they are concerned about the competition from a national chain as well as increased traffic in a neighborhood that's already congested and parking is at a premium.
"It's a Catch 22," said Darlene Totilo, owner of , a chocolate, ice cream and creperie shop across the street at 185 Sound Beach. "Obviously it will bring in more foot traffic and car traffic and tht could help everybody. But it opens the door to national chains. That's what happened to Greenwich Avenue ... the Mom and Pops are gone."
The only national chain store in the village is the which broke the mold for sign colors when it moved next door to the several years ago. For as long as the locals can remember, black and white were de rigeur colors for shop signs.
According to Town Planner Diane Fox, plans for 1,040 square foot store only needed approval from the Architectural Review Commission which approved store signage. "Plans have not yet been signed off yet because they have not sent in revised drawings. They will be limited to 12 seats," Fox said in an e-mail. According to plans filed with the , the store will have both front and rear entrances.
It could not be determined when the shop will open. A call to land use lawyer John Tesei, representing Dunkin' Donuts, was not returned.
David Rafferty, president of the , said merchants and residents are concerned that national chains won't support the community the way the Mom and Pop stores do. He pointed to and as two examples of local businesses who regularly donate their services to various community events.
"People go to CVS and there is an awful lot of people who resent this national business chain that doesn't give back to the town," Rafferty said. "If the folks at Dunkin' Donuts takes a different tack, that they are part of the community that would be good."
Frank Carpenteri Jr., owner of Garden Catering, acknowledged the coffee chain could present competition. However, his concern is focused on increased traffic and the lack of parking. "With the traffic in the spring and summer, it's gonna be a nightmare and when people drive by because they can't find a place to park, you can't calculate what business you might lose," said Carpenteri who's run the popular take-out shop for 20 years.
"We have to worry ... you have to keep an eye on the competition and keep an eye on your business to be competitive," he added.
"If we lose one customer to Dunkin' Donuts, it's a negative," said Rob Guerreri, who with his wife Amy, has operated Upper Crust Bagels for 17 years at 197 Sound Beach. "It's food off our plate ... it has never been this challenging in 17 years."
The Guerreris also own , a shop around the corner on Arcadia Road.
"It's gonna kill us with the traffic," said Demos Lorentzos, who's owned , two doors down from the Dunkin' Donuts location. Lorentzos said he's not happy with the new competition, especially when he sells a customer favorite — homemade doughnuts made daily by 81-year-old Marie Zezima.
The Rev. Bill Gestal, pastor of the , and his son Dan expressed surprise at the news as they ordered slices from Lorentzos on Thursday. "I've lived and worked in Old Greenwich for 10 years. And I've been coming here since I moved here. I hold breakfast meetings here — the food is great. It's a great little place."
It's that customer loyalty that the locals are hoping will help them survive.
"Our customers in Old Greenwich are very loyal and we hope they will be," said Amy Guerreri.
As he waited for his coffee and egg sandwich, Mark Swan said he'll continue to patronize Garden Catering as he has every day for two years. "You're overpaying for a cup of coffee that's just as good here."
Rafferty said in his talks with residents and businessmen, "There are definitely some who say chain stores definitely detract from the quaint New England feel of the village of Old Greenwich is trying to maintain and there are others who say you can't have empty storefronts." He added, "Let's invite them to the neighborhood to be a partner in the community like the Mom and Pop stores do."
[Editor's Note: The caption appended to early renderings of the proposed Dunkin' Donuts has been updated to reflect changes to the exterior awning and lettering required by the town.]