New SoNo Mall Looms Large

If you drive through Norwalk on I-95, it’s impossible to miss.

A 700,000-square-foot mall is rising inches off Exit 15.

Artist’s rendering of the SoNo Collection mall.

It won’t open until October 2019. But — with its size, its freshness, and its retailers like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s — the SoNo Collection seems to pose a direct threat to Westport’s Main Street.

Matt Mandell disagrees.

The executive of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce told the Fairfield County Business Journal, “We offer an open-air experience instead of an enclosed mall. People come to Westport for a change of pace.”

Westport Downtown Merchants Association president Randy Herbertson adds that the mall offers “opportunities” for our town.

“They are focusing on mid-tier to aspirational retailers, and only 6% devoted to food service which will most likely be fast-service casual (chains like Olive Garden).”

That will “further accentuate our opportunity to provide a more upscale, specialty, open-air and experiential shopping, dining and living district that will complement this offering.”

Main Street is open air — not enclosed.

But, Herbertson says, to attract new merchants and downtown residents — and continue drawing investments like Bedford Square, the new Elm Street property, Belden Place, the former Save the Children complex, and the building that’s replacing Bobby Q — “we need to prioritize stronger cooperation and co-investment between our town and commercial interests.”

It’s already started, he says, through a constructive meeting he attended with First Selectman Jim Marpe and his team, Mandell, and area developers, landlords and merchants.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks down toward October 2019.

(Click here for the full Fairfield County Business Journal story. Hat tip: Scott Smith)

20 responses to “New SoNo Mall Looms Large

  1. At $150/sq ft. asking price for retailers, the new mall may take “a while” to fill up.

  2. Julie Shapiro

    What we really need downtown is an entertainment venue – indie films like garden Cinemas, interesting food options that have character and culture,boutique stores with mid price interesting gift or personal options. Strolling musicians, art exhibits and artisans doing their work – no more high end designer stores – lifestyle family venue

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. James Honeycutt

    Dan, I have wondered after your blog post speculating that Apple might take over the then closing Nike store whether Apple would instead open a store in the new SoNo Collection Mall. At Apple there has been rumors that the Company would open another store somewhere along Connecticut’s Gold Coast. Apple seems to open a new store every several years and it is certainly about time for a new one to be somewhere nearby. I would love to see an Apple store on Westport’s Main Street. Have you heard any more rumors? I have not recently from my end at Apple. The Company is pretty careful with future plans for their stores as they certainly are with their new products.

    • I keep hearing the Apple-in-Westport rumors, from sources without real knowledge of local real estate. I put more credence in the rumors that Apple will open in the new Norwalk mall. It makes more sense to me, from a numbers perspective.

  4. Matthew Mandell

    The collaboration that Randy talks about needs to extend beyond the town and the property/business owners, but with them and the DMA and Chamber as well. At times it is almost impossible to get the chain stores to buy into the many and varied events the Chamber puts on. Events that make our downtown unique and vibrant.

    The Chamber needs the buy in from the very landlords we met with to help us help them and our downtown. Supper & Soul, The Blues Views & BBQ, The Fine Arts Fair, the Halloween Window Painting Contest and this month’s Great Westport Pizza Contest, these are things the Mall will never offer. And we can do more, but it takes support.

    We do have a few property owners that are strong supporters, but we need them all both directly financially and indirectly by ensuring their national chain tenants become involved as well. Great things are ahead for Downtown and Westport we all just have to work together to make it happen. Here’s my number 203-227-9234, give me a call let’s talk.

    • Dick Lowenstein

      Add the Westport Library’s annual book sales in December, March, and July. The Library itself is an important destination and the southern anchor to Main Street.

  5. Talking with local friends one hears comments of how greedy landlords have taken the “home town” atmosphere out of Main St. Only the big box stores can afford the rents which rival those of the malls. I agree with Ms.Shapiro, go pedestrian between the Post Rd. and Elm. Encourage sidewalk cafe’s. Build that second level of parking on Elm. Where’s that movie theatre I heard Phillip Teuscher propose?

  6. I for one cannot wait for the Norwalk mall to drive the high-end corporate stores off of Main Street. Yes, it will lower rents, maybe we’ll have some more empty storefronts in the short term, but in the long term we might actually have some local and interesting shops open up again rather than the sterile and characterless outdoor mall it is now.

  7. Celeste Champagne

    As a Norwalk resident who moved here 30 years ago from NYC, I welcome the SoNo Collection which will bring a bit of New York to me locally. I agree with the comments that Westport (perhaps thru landlords gouging rents) should be more like the town it was when I moved here: nice locally-owned shops, eating places right on Main Street. Not what it has become, and is now even failing, with mall-type stores occupying most of the town. Would also love to see a movie theatre back in downtown Westport.

  8. Dan Lasley (Laz)

    Wow. That’s finally getting built? The lot had just been cleared when we moved away in 2008. Or was there something there in the interim?

  9. Seth Goltzer

    I hear that the obscene Mall is already failing. Nordstrom may be pulling out if they stay in business long enough to even open. Otherstores are in a tenuous situation. Malls all over the Country are closing, traditional retail is dying and this traffic nightmare is going to be a real headache for the area until it turns into a slum. I feel sorry for the investors.

  10. Another White Elephant is being created in the tri-state area. This mall is going to cause traffic nightmares, increase in crime, businesses will fail miserably, pollution and deterioration of the environment. We live in the age of online shopping this mall is a waste of money and is nothing more than a money project for all persons involved in the idea, planning and construction.

    • This is the second comment mentioning traffic. It is inches off Exit 15. I’m not a huge mall fan — but I’m wondering how that location will cause “traffic nightmares.”

  11. Bobbie Herman

    It’s not only Westport. Here’s a NYTimes article about empty stores in NYC —

    I would blame Amazon, but you can’t try on clothing over the Internet.

  12. A few years ago Hagerstown, MD voted to close down their mall in favor of re-invigorating their down town area.

  13. Julie Shapiro, you are describing the Westport I grew up in the 60’s – 80’s 🙂 We used to have free concerts on Jessup Green, art shows all up and down Main St. The only chain store I remember was Ann Taylor when we moved there in 1966. There were lots of really good small restaurants. Main Street had so many cool shops, the kids from Weston would hitch hike there to hang out. The last time I was in Westport ( 2007) I did not recognize anything downtown…It made me sad 🙁

  14. Shirlee Gordon

    The funniest part of the artist rendering is that I95 has no traffic on it!

  15. Bill Boyd (Staples '66)

    The comments here are on point….I think comparing the new mall and main street is apples and oranges…people need to appreciate the differences and take advantage of them…e.g. proximity, safety, home town, etc etc…I have faith it will get sorted out. Keep the discussion going !

  16. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    I’m happy that South Norwalk has become a target location. When I was a kid, not so much. I always enjoyed it though.