As the sound from the Alive@Five stage boomed through the humid air of Stamford’s downtown, 25-year-old Jordyn Peck stood with three friends at a high table outside nearby Tiernan’s on Main Street, sipping a beer from a clear cup and taking in the midsummer night’s air between sips and laughs.
The lower corner of Connecticut has never exactly been known as a hot spot for the young and trendy. With 10.99 percent of Southwestern Connecticut’s population between ages 20 and 29, according to data from the 2011 American Community Survey, the area’s 20-somethings are significantly outnumbered by a grayer demographic, such as folks older than 65, who account for 13.5 percent of the area’s population. But there are some pockets of the area where the 20-something population is reaching numbers that command attention.
In Stamford’s 06901 ZIP code, which hugs the sharp corners of the city’s downtown, 29 percent of residents are between the ages of 20 and 29, giving the area more than double the density of 20-somethings, like Peck and her friends, as the overall national average of 13.8 percent.
It’s the third most densely populated ZIP for these young residents of the 237 ZIPs with at least 1,000 people in the state, behind Mansfield’s 06269 ZIP code, which contains the University of Connecticut’s main campus, leading it to a somewhat unfair No. 1 spot with 50.4 percent of residents in their 20s. The second highest is New Haven’s 06510, which borders Yale, and boasts a massive amount of residents in the undergraduate age bracket.
In the top 15, there are a total of three Southwestern Connecticut neighborhoods. But in the bottom 15, there are 10, with Rowayton’s 06583 ZIP code coming in at the second least popular place for 20-somethings in all of Connecticut, with 2.5 percent of the population in that age bracket – or about 95 people. Darien’s 06820 is the fourth-least popular, Sherman’s 06784 is the fifth-least popular, followed by Weston’s 06883 at No. 7 and Redding’s 06986 at No. 9 and New Canaan’s 06840 rounding out the top 10.
Unlike the more suburban spots, you can see these young urban dwellers just about everywhere in Stamford’s downtown, from the studios and one-bedroom apartments in the new apartment buildings popping up on Washington Boulevard to the outdoor dining tables on Bedford Street and watering holes like Tiernan’s at Alive@Five.
Peck is just one of a few more than 1,900 20-something residents in the ZIP code, where she has lived for about two-and-a-half years, after moving to town for her job at GE. She recently finished her two-year training course at her company, which was her original reason for coming to town. But now that she’s technically free to move somewhere else, she said she’s not going anywhere.
“It’s nice to park your car on a weekend and not touch it,” she said. “There’s no driving – you can just walk anywhere. Yeah, it’s like that in New York City, but I would prefer to live here. Everything is here, most of my friends are here and it’s a fun place to be.”
There’s a steady stream of places for barhopping and bouncing between, she said, noting that she stays on Bedford Street when it’s cold – usually visiting Tigin or Brickhouse – since it’s a shorter walk from her apartment on the outskirts of downtown, and that she enjoys Tiernan’s in the summer.
“It’s great,” said her friend and co-worker, Whitney Fremeau, 24. “It’s younger and all of the downtown is walkable.”
And that kind of environment is exactly what they’re seeking at this point in their life.
Down in the 06901 ZIP code, there has been a concerted effort to create that atmosphere, said Sandy Goldstein, the president of the Stamford Downtown Special Services District.
“It was totally different 20 years ago,” Goldstein said this week, spouting off statistics showing that the majority of Stamford’s downtown residents are young professionals these days. “We’ve been encouraging downtown market-level housing, because we know that would bring young people downtown, people with disposable income, which is really good for business.”
So her organization focused on changing parking regulations and the laws that permitted outdoor dining. And the result is something she called a “fountain of youth” at the city’s core.
“This is a real city. People want to live here. They want to be entertained here, to dine here, to party here. And that’s what you want in a city. That’s what makes New York and Philadelphia and Denver so popular: It’s young people wanting to be there. And young people want to be in Stamford,” Goldstein said.
The top five ZIP codes in Connecticut for 20-somethings begin at Stamford’s 06901, before Bridgeport’s 06604 at No. 2, Stamford’s 06902 at No. 3, and Bridgeport’s 06608 and 06609 at No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. But even that data, which is the most recent available, doesn’t show the significant growth that’s taken place in these pockets since 2011 when it was last measured.
For instance, In 06902, the Harbor Point development has opened up about 1,100 units since that time, drawing roughly 1,600 people to the area, Harbor Point’s Chief Operating Officer Ted Ferrarone said earlier this week. Of those 1,600 new residents, about 500 are in their 20s, he said. So while 2011 data shows that about 12,500 residents in that area were in their 20s, it’s likely closer to 13,000 today.
“There are people coming from all over the place to live in Harbor Point,” Ferrarone said. “People are literally coming out of the city to come here… that whole stretch of waterfront has never been accessible by anybody before, really and it has been amazingly popular.”
Popular and young.
While 12.2 percent of the state of Connecticut’s residents are in their 20s, Ferrarone said the numbers in his neighborhood are double and triple that rate. At The Lofts at Yale & Towne, where an old factory site has been repurposed for 21st-century living, “just under 40 percent” of residents are between the ages of 18 and 29, he said. In other locations, like nearby Lockworks, a luxury-living area, these folks are about 33 percent of the population. And in high-rises like 101 Park Place and Infinity, where rents climb with the altitude, the percentage is a little lower, at about 30 percent, he said.
And you can see them en masse at the pools, on the water taxi to nearby Stamford Landing, or playing corn hole on the boardwalk at the newly opened Harbor Point Beer Garden.
“I think a lot of people are looking for nightlife and a lifestyle of some kind,” said Terence Beaty, director of new homes and land division at Prudential Real Estate.
“If I were to say right now, Harbor Point I think is the most desirable area in the state right now, because it has such a future as a destination area. There’s restaurants and the retail and that part of it too,” he said.
The second half of the “if you build it, they will come” mantra is unfolding in the city of Stamford, but it’s not the only city upping its game.
“Bridgeport has been a burgeoning city for some time, and it’s had fits and starts,” Beaty said. “But it’s usually very creative people who are able to develop and populate an area like that first, and then you see more development with the money that’s created. Bridgeport’s coming, you’ll see.”
Justin Elliott, 24, doesn’t have to wait and see Bridgeport’s growth. He’s living it, he said Tuesday afternoon as he sipped a margarita from a pint glass at Barnum Publick House on Broad Street in Bridgeport’s 06604 ZIP code, where 19.5 percent of residents are in their 20s.
“Honestly, downtown Bridgeport has been ‘up and coming’ for a while, and I think that it’s finally starting to turn around,” said Elliott, who lives across the street from Barnum at the Read’s Artspace, a former department store which was recast into lofts for artists 70-years after it was first built.
“When you tell anybody in Connecticut you live in Bridgeport, they’re like, ‘Oh, Bridgeport,’” he said, feigning shock with a gasp. “But when you live right here, it’s like the surrounding blocks are really nice. It’s mostly corporate buildings that people work in. There are a bunch of nice restaurants, and this place is opening a new restaurant two doors down.”
It’s coming alive around him, he said. And he’s not the only noticing.
A couple blocks over, Tony Jordan, who manages the pizza joint and bar Two Boots, commented on just how many hot social spots have opened up in the area, drawing attention of the roughly 5,600 20-somethings who call the 06604 ZIP code home.
“Like none of this was here five years ago, with the exception, I guess, of Two Boots. And it’s definitely a district now with different demographics than there was seven or eight years ago,” he said, adding that he believed the draw will only increase. “A lot of us are invested and we believe that Bridgeport is finally on the upturn. There’s a lot of potential here and I think people are finally seeing that.”
Kayla Esteves, a 23-year-old bartender who slings shot glasses at nearby Bare said the awakening is only beginning.
“With the apartments that are opening up down here, there’s a younger crowd coming in,” she said. “It’s not quiet any more, it’s not like a dead town here – it has more livelihood.”
And that’s something that Beaty thinks will beget even more life in the area.“Young people like to socialize with each other and be near other younger people,” he said.