Replacement eyed for Ann Taylor in Westport

Photo of Alexander Soule

With Ann Taylor’s closure in downtown Westport as part of a national contraction by its parent company, a replacement could be on the horizon in short order with a link to a familiar name.

Sundance, created nearly 30 years ago by actor and director Robert Redford as an apparel catalog company, is eyeing space at 97 Main St. vacated by Ann Taylor, according to a source knowledgeable with the town’s retail scene, with the company not responding immediately Tuesday to a Hearst Connecticut Media query.

Sundance is notable for an unconditional guarantee of quality that some other retailers have backed away from, to include L.L Bean earlier this year.

Redford is no stranger to Westport, having performed at the Westport Country Playhouse in 2011 alongside his “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” co-star Paul Newman, and with Redford once owning a home himself in Weston.

Any Sundance arrival would provide a fresh boost for Westport, which has seen the recent departures of The Nike Store and Allen Edmonds among others on Main Street, but where the new Bedford Square development has helped compensate as a magnet for multiple retailers new to southwestern Connecticut, including the new Anthropologie & Co. concept store and Nic+Zoe selling women’s apparel.

An Ascena spokesperson did not respond immediately Monday to a query on why the company chose to close in Westport, which has a median household income of $120,000. The Ann Taylor store is part of a retail row owned by Empire State Realty Trust extending from the vacated Nike Store to Athleta, with Main Street the only locale where Empire State Realty has stand-alone retail properties outside New York City, where it is based.

Ascena acquired Ann Inc. in August 2015, adding the Ann Taylor, Loft and Lou & Grey retail brands, with Loft having a location a few blocks from the former Ann Taylor in Westport. Other Ascena stores with multiple locations in southwestern Connecticut include Dressbarn, Justice and Lane Bryant.

Ann Taylor has remaining Connecticut locations in Danbury, New Canaan and Stamford, among others. Midway through a three-year plan targeting $300 million in cost savings by 2019, in March Ascena executives said the company has closed 400 of nearly 670 locations across its brands, including more than 100 stores between November and January as part of a “fleet optimization program” that left it with 4,600 locations entering 2018.

CEO David Jaffe expressed confidence on a March conference call that women will continue to want to shop in local stores for the ability to touch clothes and try them on, and for the social aspects of the shopping experience.

“I think the retail apocalypse is vastly overstated — I think that women’s apparel may still be coming out of a little bit of a doldrums over the last number of years,” Jaffe said in March. “I think the winners are going to be the guys that deliver great product. ... Where we’ve had great product, we’ve had great success. Our challenge is to become a little more consistent in that.”; 203-842-2545; @casoulman