A Norwalk Mall’s Modern Love–Big, bright, and bold, The SoNo Collection comes to town
The stylish stacked boxes that are The SoNo Collection announce themselves to the millions of drivers on I-95 to admire—and to wonder. The new uber-chic shopping destination contains 700,000 square feet of experiencial space. Yes, there are of course stores. In fact, two of the nation’s top retailers, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s (the first in Connecticut), anchor The SoNo Collection, plus some 80 others. But it’s the non-store aspect that stands out. There are soft seating areas, games to play, places to hang, plus digital, painted, and sculptured art. There are things to do and people to see—while you shop.
Meticulously assembled over three years in the acreage where I-95 and Route 7 converge, the mall found a home near two major commuter highways, in our diverse and bustling city, bordering some of the wealthiest communities in the United States: Fairfield County is among America’s ten highest-income areas. Prior to the opening of The SoNo Collection, there were only three malls available to the surrounding population of about one million along the I-95 corridor between White Plains through Fairfield County.
Not surprisingly, one of The SoNo Collection’s biggest fans is Mayor Harry Rilling. The fact that Brookfield Properties and the developers of the mall invested $600 million in this project isn’t lost on him. “The SoNo Collection is going to bring millions of dollars in annual tax revenue to Norwalk, create thousands of good-paying jobs, and be a regional go-to destination,” says Mayor Rilling.
“Brookfield Properties saw the need here, but was mindful to create a modern shopping center that reflects the area and its appreciation of arts and culture,” says Matthew Seebeck, senior general manager of The SoNo Collection. Indeed art is so important that The SoNo Collection website features a page dedicated to it.
While not every store is open yet, Seebeck says the mall is 90 percent leased. In addition to the two luxury anchors, there is an interesting mix of “fast fashion” stores like Zara and H&M, as well as retail favorites such as Sephora, Lush, Pandora, Clark’s, Victoria’s Secret, and Abercrombie & Fitch. But then there are stores you have probably never heard of, such as Alter’d State, Evereve, Camp, and beauty concepts like Tutti Spa & Nails and Brow Art. “SoNo Collection is unusual in that we are 20 percent home goods,” explains Seebeck. In addition, Lillian August, EQ3, Arhaus, Artéé, and Casper round out the options. “Casper is one of our ‘digitally native’ retailers, who know their customers are savvy online shoppers, but they also want to have the in-person experience,” says Seebeck. You can reserve time to nap on one of their mattresses. Other online retailers with a retail presence at SoNo include Untuckit and Amazon.
Modern malls are emphasizing interactive experiences for shoppers, and The SoNo Collection has brought together a compelling array of stores like Camp that combine food, shopping, and activities. Camp has activity programming, such as its “Date Night Pajama Party” for parents to leave kids while they eat and shop. “Holiday time here will be unlike other mall experiences,” says Seebeck. “We will have an interactive exhibit called the Holiday Bells Grove where visitors experience sounds and lights as they walk and touch the bells. We will also have the Whispering Wishes Grove where visitors enter a forest and whisper their wishes into the trees as branches respond with illumination.” Santa will not be stationary, but will be roving around—ready for family encounters and joint selfies.
Speaking of selfies, SoNo Collection was created with built-in Instagrammable moments from the “Be Bold” lettering sculpture by artist Matthew Hoffman to the pink sequined wall near Bloomingdale’s. “We want art and beauty to surround visitors,” says Seebeck.
“They have been a great partner to the city of Norwalk,” says Mayor Rilling. “They reduced the square footage of restaurant space to ensure shoppers have the opportunity to experience all the great food establishments we have in the city.” To that end, absent is the traditional fast-food court—instead several popular restaurant concepts are making their home at SoNo. Pinstripes, the Chicago-based restaurant featuring “bistro, bocce, and bowling” has chosen The SoNo Collection to be its first New England location. “We will be opening in December and occupy 27,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space for eating, drinking, and of course bocce, bowling, and private events,” says director of sales Sherry Wyatt. Other dining options include include Bazille inside Nordstrom, Yard House, Jacob’s Pickles, and New Haven’s beloved Sally’s APizza. All of the restaurants, except for those in the department stores, will be accessible by direct access from the outside, so diners don’t have to be concerned with mall hours to enjoy SoNo Collection’s food choices.
The mayor is also impressed that Brookfield partnered with Norwalk Community College in the creation of a retail management program. More than 100 students have already graduated from the program and several are employed at The SoNo Collection. But what about the area immediately surrounding the center? “We anticipate secondary growth and investment there,” says Mayor Rilling. ”Retailers and restaurants that were not able to secure a footprint inside The SoNo Collection will be looking to capitalize on this regional traffic.”
Connecting the Community
Since 2015 as a consultant to Brookfield Properties, Deidra Davis has been community outreach coordinator for The SoNo Collection—connecting community groups, religious organizations, the mayor’s office, and neighbors. In addition, she built a working relationship with local high schools, adult
education, Norwalk Housing Authority, and South Norwalk Library to pilot a retail customer-service class. The SoNo Collection posted this on Instagram: “We are proud to have Deidra’s community leadership on our team.”#thefacesofsono #xosono
When these department stores came to town they brought details to the shopping experience
›› Curated fashion & beauty along with home department and registry
›› Home and RTW styling services, including a
furniture design room where guests can lay out fabrics and samples.
›› On-site alterations
›› Personal shopping
›› Beauty and spa services
›› Culinary demonstrations and tastings
›› Holiday-themed activities for the family
›› 140,000 square feet of shopping experience
›› 6,300 lipsticks in more than 130 shades
›› 1,700 tubes of mascara in 100 different types
›› More than 100 beauty brands
›› Bazille, a full-service restaurant with bistro cuisine, with views overlooking Norwalk Harbor
›› Curbside pickup
›› Complimentary personal stylist