Niantic looks to Mystic as business role model

View from a corner apartment unit in The Norton, a new mixed commercial and residential development on Main Street in Niantic Friday October 7, 2022 in Groton. Developers Kody Blake and Eric Goodman, who built The Standard in Mystic, say half of the dozen units have been sold. The store level includes a new sift bake shop. The building is named after Norton’s Auto and Marine who occupied the site for many years. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day) Buy photo reprints

The Norton, a new mixed commercial and residential development on Main Street in Niantic Friday 7th October 2022 in Groton. Developers Kody Blake and Eric Goodman, who built The Standard in Mystic, say half of the dozen units have been sold. The store level includes a new sift bake shop. The building is named after Norton’s Auto and Marine who occupied the site for many years. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day) Buy photo reprints
Developers work to complete The Norton, a new mixed commercial and residential development on Main Street in Niantic, Friday October 7, 2022 Groton. Developers Kody Blake and Eric Goodman, who built The Standard in Mystic, say half of the dozen units have been sold. The store level includes a new sift bake shop. The building is named after Norton’s Auto and Marine who occupied the site for many years. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day) Buy photo reprints

East Lyme — As the doors at Sift Bake Shop’s newest location open on Saturday, some business owners are seeing Niantic’s quaint Main-Street-with-a-view as a burgeoning mystic.

Sift owner Adam Young said his first trip to the seaside village, lined with shops and restaurants, conjured up familiar memories.

“It was very, very reminiscent of Mystic 2016 when we first came here,” he said.

Two years after he and his wife, Ebbie, opened this flagship location in Mystic, Young watched the store transform into a tourist destination with his 2018 win in Food Network’s Best Baker in America competition. Now they’re bringing the same product line, same amenities, and about 25 new employees to 184 Main Street.

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The Norton, a three-story, 32,928-square-foot building across the bay, is a project by Eric Goodman, 36, and Kody Blake, 39, of K Blake and Company. This is the duo behind The Standard on Water Street in Mystic where Young runs a chocolate and candy store.

Young said his 90-hour-a-week work schedule never gave him much time to get out, so it wasn’t until Goodman brought him to the site ahead of construction that he experienced East Lyme’s shimmering approach to Niantic Bay.

The view in front of the store and the 43 parking spots behind it helped the decision to say yes to Niantic when his friend Goodman approached him about becoming a tenant.

“A large portion of our existing demographic that comes to Mystic is reluctant to come in the summer due to a lack of parking,” Young said.

Young cited supply chain issues related to electrical equipment powering the building as the reason for the delay in Sift’s scheduled opening in July. Instead, management trained new employees at the Mystic site over the summer in preparation for the upcoming grand opening.

“We’re excited to have her in her new suite,” he said.

Young pointed to other Mystic-based entrepreneurs whose business plans included expansion into Niantic, highlighting Ricky Au’s Spice Club and Leo Roche’s The Black Sheep Pub. Other restaurants at the Au include Pink Basil and Samurai Noodle Bar & Grill, while Roche owns The Harp and Hound.

The decorated baker said there is another trend that bodes well for both sectors: “We have seen that in the last five to seven years there has been a very high concentration of very talented people in my line of work, and I have come to Mystic would love to see a similar situation at Niantic.”

Sift will anchor the front of the building adjacent to Anna Lathrop’s Gourmet Galley who currently operates a catering business and flagship store in North Stonington.

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Lathrop said she hopes to open before Thanksgiving. In addition to ready meals, sausage products and food specialties, she plans to offer a dine-in service.

“You can order lunch at the counter, bring it to your seat and enjoy a glass of wine or a local beer with it,” she said. Seating for 20 includes two sets of four window seats overlooking the bay.

Lathrop also described Niantic as reminiscent of a slower, less congested Mystic.

“The locals are very supportive and it hasn’t been overrun with tourists yet,” she said.

The other two commercial tenants will arrive after the holidays, according to Goodman. He said clothing, accessories and gifts retailer Pearls and Plaid will open as an expansion of its current location in Old Saybrook. Home furnishings and gift shop Azalea will be moving across Pennsylvania Avenue.

Elsewhere on Main Street, a restaurant and taproom will be built at the street level of Morton House on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue. Co-owner Andy Sklavouris, who is also a partner of Five Churches Brewery and Taproom in New Britain, said he hopes Five Churches By the Bay opens in mid-November.

traffic calming

Goodman said he was ready to close five of The Norton’s 12 condos, including the penthouse, towards the end of the month. It was on the market for $1.2 million.

The other units range from $425,000 to $1 million, according to the developer. Local and state records show he purchased the property through a limited liability company for $850,000 in January.

The building fills the space formerly occupied by Norton’s Auto & Marine Service. Goodman said the late Tim Norton’s son-in-law was the one who reached out to him to ask about reviving a development project that first circulated nearly 10 years ago.

The site plan was renewed by the Zoning Commission last October after originally being submitted by Norton in 2013. The commission unanimously approved the plan both times.

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Goodman said he’s heard from city officials about some complaints about traffic in and around Grand Street, where traffic enters the back of the building.

Public Works Department director Joe Bragaw said the city has painted white shoulder lines along Grand Street and Smith Avenue to both clear parking spaces and calm traffic. He said the white border lines on the road pushed drivers into the lane rather than allowing them to use the entire road.

“We’re trying to slow down the traffic on the road a bit.”

Once it becomes clearer how much traffic the occupied building will generate, Bragaw said they will use the data on traffic levels and patterns to make recommendations for needed improvements. It is the responsibility of the Police Commission, as the city’s transportation authority, to issue final approvals for most changes to signage and road markings on local roads.

“The white border lines were something we wanted to try to be proactive about,” he said. “So we’re trying to do some things up front, but until we really see what kind of traffic levels are affected, we kind of have to sit back and see what happens.”

Goodman believes increased traffic is inevitable if the south side of the street is designated commercial and the north side is designated residential. But he said it also has its perks: He’s already seen properties in the immediate area selling for higher prices than before the project began.

“I think what we did in Niantic was a nice complement to the downtown streetscape,” he said. “It’s not going to make everyone happy, but this was an under-used property that will contribute a significant amount of tax and have a very small impact, and provide the parking that people are always worried about.”

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