More Than Stores–The SoNo Collection Mall on I-95
Imagine spending your lunch hour in a light-filled space, surrounded by giant murals hand-painted by local artists while strong wi-fi powers your laptop. A contemporary-art museum, trendy co-working space? No. The mall. The SoNo Collection, which recently opened in South Norwalk. The stacked boxes that announce themselves from I-95 contain 700,000 square feet filled with soft seating areas—some of which was designed by RISD students—along with digital, painted, and sculptural art, outdoor spaces, and oh yes—there are stores, too. Two of the nation’s top department stores, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s (the first in Connecticut) anchor The SoNo Collection.
Fairfield County is among America’s ten highest-income areas. There were only three malls available to a population of about one million along the I-95 corridor between New York and New Haven. “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, of the mall owner. Indeed art is so important that The SoNo Collection website features a page dedicated to the artists and the work.
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. There’s also a large number of home furnishings retailers. “SoNo Collection is unusual in that we are 20 percent home goods,” explains Seebeck. The first ever H&M with a home department will be opening soon. 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 and browsers, but they also want to have the in-person experience as well,” says Seebeck. You can reserve time to take a 45-minute nap on one of their mattresses in a private space. 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 designed to keep customers of all ages entertained. 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 in the level three garden to the pink sequined wall near Bloomingdale’s. “We want art and beauty to surround visitors,” says Seebeck.
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 location in New England. “We will open 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 Sherry Wyatt, director of sales. “We thought Norwalk and Fairfield County was the ideal place to bring Pinstripes, with its combination of made-from-scratch food and all ages entertainment.” Other dining options include include Nordstrom’s Bazille, Yard House, Jacob’s Pickles, and New Haven’s famousSally’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.