Is Wayland Square the ‘Canary in the Coal’ Mine for the Slow Death of Retail?

Tuesday, August 01, 2017
GoLocalProv Business Team

Comina, recently closed - the furniture retailer had been at two different locations over the past 10 years
In the past few months, three long-time retailers have left Wayland Square — the upscale shopping area on Providence’s East Side.

It is an area that hosts upscale clothing shops where a men’s jacket can cost $1,000 and has the running store that features a pair of running shoes for more than $200.

The shopping area caters to the East Side’s most affluent.

The three stores that closed their Wayland Square locations were traditional retailers — jewelry, a bookstore, and a furniture store.

The change takes place during a period in which chain retailers are closing stores by the hundreds. One of Wayland Square’s competitors, Providence Place Mall, is under distress and recently announced free parking for customers — a point of differentiation that may help the Mall complete with Garden City in Cranston and could be another blow for the local, small Providence retailers.

Garden City has been exploding with new stores and expansion. The outdoor retail mall offers free parking.

Retailers on Thayer Street, Federal Hill, and Wayland Square have all argued for the past three years that parking meters policy that expanded the number of meters and increased enforcement by implemented by Mayor Jorge Elorza has adversely impacted their business. Multiple closed stores on Thayer Street claim that their businesses closed or moved as a result of the impact of parking meters.

It is no secret that large retailers are getting crushed by changing consumer behavior and the omnipresent growth of online retailers like

The consulting group Challenger, Gray, Christmas, Inc. reports that this year, Macy’s has cut 10,000 jobs, JCPenny 5,500, HH Gregg 5,000, The Limited 4,000, and American Apparel 3,457.

Who has closed:


Each of the stores that left Wayland Square did so for a different reason. Alex and Ani closed its retail shop on the prime location of the corner of Angell Street and Wayland Avenue because its lease expired. Alex and Ani has closed a number of East Coast stores, but has dramatically grown the number of stores on the West Coast.


Bookstore lost its lease

As GoLocal reported in March of 2017, the long-time bookstore Paper Nautilus in Wayland Square was informed that its lease will not be renewed — the store had been located on South Angell Street for more than 20 years.

When the story broke the owner of the store told GoLocal, “I found out last week that I’ve got 45 days, until the end of my current lease.”  Owner of the store Kristin Sollenberger was told of the change by landlord Kenneth Dulgarian.

“So I called Ken and asked what was up, could I pay more rent, what was going on. He said he had a non-disclosure signed, so I don't know if he sold the building or is renting it to a higher bidder.”

“I asked him if I could have two more months, he gave me two more weeks,” said Sollenberger. She is in the process of relocating her store on the East Side.


Parking continues to impact small retailers in Providence

The third recent departure is the furniture store Comina which has been located in Wayland Square for the better part of a decade. The store has faced added competition with the addition of West Elm moving into the Square.

The combination of changes in the small retail area may be part of the natural transition, but may also be yet another indication of the pressure online is placing on brick and mortar retailers.


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