East Lyme — With the opening of the newest location of Sift Bake Shop on Saturday, some business owners see Niantic’s quaint Main-Street-with-a-view as a burgeoning mystic.
Sift owner Adam Young said his first drive into a coastline village full of shops and restaurants brought back familiar memories.
“When we first came here, it was very, very reminiscent of Mystic 2016,” he said.
Two years after he and his wife Ebbie opened their flagship store in Mystic, Young won Food Network’s “Best Baker in America” competition in 2018, seeing the store become a tourist destination. Now, they’re bringing the same product line, the same facilities, and about 25 new employees to 184 Main Street.
Norton, a three-story, 32,928-square-foot building across the bay, was founded by Eric Goodman, 36, of K Blake and Company, and Kody Blake, 39. This is the duo at The Standard on Water Street in Mystic, where Young runs a chocolate and confectionery shop.
Young said his 90-hour workweek never gave him much time outside, so it wasn’t until Goodman took him to the site before construction that he first experienced East Lyme and Niantic Bay sparkling fusion.
When Niantic’s friend Goodman approached him to become a tenant, the view in front of the store and the 43 parking spaces behind it helped him make the decision to say yes to Niantic.
“A large portion of our existing population comes to Mystic Island, and they are hesitant during the summer due to the lack of parking spaces,” Yang said.
Young pointed to supply chain issues involving the electrical equipment that powers the building as the reason Sift is scheduled to open in July. Instead, management trained new staff at the Mystic location over the summer in preparation for the upcoming grand opening.
“We’re excited to have them in their new suite,” he said.
When talking about other Mystic-based entrepreneurs whose business plans include expanding into Niantic, Young chose Ricky Au’s Spice Club and Leo Roche’s The Black Sheep bar. Au’s other restaurants include Pink Basil and Samurai Noodle Bar & Grill, while Roche owns The Harp and Hound.
There’s another trend that bodes well for both fields, says the decorated baker: “We’ve seen a very high concentration of very talented people in my industry over the past five to seven years. Coming into Mystic, I would like to see a similar situation with Niantic.”
Sift will be anchored at the front of the building next to Anna Lathrop’s Gourmet Galley, which currently operates a restaurant business and flagship store in North Stonington.
Lathrop said she hopes to open by Thanksgiving. In addition to prepared meals, deli and specialty retail foods, she plans to offer dine-in services.
“You can order lunch at the counter, bring it to your seat, and enjoy a glass of wine or a local beer,” she said. Seating for 20 people will include two sets of four bay-facing window seats.
Lathrop also describes Niantic as a slow, less crowded mystic.
“The locals are very supportive and it hasn’t been crowded with tourists,” she said.
Two other commercial tenants will arrive after the holidays, Goodman said. Apparel, accessories and gifts retailer Pearls and Plaid will open as an extension of its existing Old Saybrook store, he said. Home improvement and gift shop Azalea will be relocating from the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Elsewhere on Main Street, a restaurant and bar is under construction on the streets of Morton House on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue. Co-owner Andy Sklavoris, who is also a partner at Five Churches Brewery and Taproom in New Britain, said he hopes the five churches by the bay will open by mid-November.
Goodman said he plans to close five of Norton’s 12 apartments, including the penthouse, by the end of the month. It went public for $1.2 million.
Prices for other units range from $425,000 to $1 million, according to the developer. He purchased the property for $850,000 in January through an LLC, local and state records show.
The building fills the space where Norton Auto & Marine Services used to be. Goodman said the late Tim Norton’s son-in-law was the one who reached out to him with questions about reviving the development that was first proposed nearly 10 years ago.
After the site plan was originally proposed by Norton in 2013, it was updated by the Zoning Board last October. Both times the committee unanimously approved the plan.
Goodman said he had heard a number of complaints from town officials about traffic on and off Grand Street, which entered from the back of the building.
Joe Bragau, director of public works, said the town painted white shoulder lines along Grand Street and Smith Avenue to clarify parking spaces and help calm traffic. He said white borders on roads squeeze drivers into lanes instead of letting them use the entire road.
“We’re trying to slow down traffic on the street.”
Once it becomes clear how much traffic the occupied buildings will generate, Bragaw said they will use the data on traffic and patterns to make recommendations for any necessary improvements. As the town’s traffic authority, the Police Council will ultimately approve most changes involving signs and road markings on local roads.
“The white borderline is something we try to be proactive about,” he said. “So we’re trying to do something ahead of time, but we’ll have to sit back and see what happens before we actually see what kind of traffic is affected.”
From Goodman’s point of view, the increase in traffic is inevitable when the south side of the street is divided into commercial areas and the north side is divided into residential areas. But he said there were also positives: he had seen properties in neighbouring areas sell for more than they were before the project started.
“I think what we’re doing at Niantic is a great addition to the downtown streetscape,” he said. “It’s not going to make everyone happy, but it’s an underutilized property that’s going to generate a lot of tax, have a very low impact, and provide parking that people have always cared about.”