Darien retailers not concerned about SoNo mall impact
It’s coming — and soon.
The SoNo Collection, a new giant mall being built in Norwalk at 100 N. Water Street, will be opening Oct. 11.
According to its website, The SoNo Collection will be a mixed-use development with more than 700,000 square feet of retail space. Anchor stores will include Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's, and there will be 80 to 100 retail stores.
The Darien Times recently visited some of the smaller stores in town to learn what their workers’ and owners’ thoughts are on the new mall’s impact on their business. Everyone who was asked was positive, for a variety of reasons.
“Specialty boutique,” brands
Helen Ainson employee Teresa Lyons said she doesn’t feel like the shop would lose clients because it is a “specialty boutique,” where “people would travel long distances to get to.”
“We are a destination store. We are known for our evening wear, gowns, cocktail dresses, and casual clothing,” Lyons said.
She added that Helen Ainson is “one-stop shopping. We have a little bit of everything. It’s a little different than you see everywhere else, which makes us unique.”
Erica Wood, owner of Wiggles & Giggles, said she carries “many specialty brands.”
“You’re not going to find my brands in a mall,” she said.
Brands she carries include British designer Rachel Riley, who is from London, as well as local brands such as Classic Prep Childrenswear and Merrymaid.
“Currently, they are not in big department store environments, nor are they standalone children’s shops,” Wood added.
Molly Myers, who works at Everything is Rosey, which sells dresses, beach coverwear, gift items, and costume jewelry, said the store is not in direct competition with typical mall stores.
“We’re kind of niche,” Myers said, adding that customers travel to Everything is Rosey from Greenwich, New Canaan, and Wilton.
She added that Rosey Costello has owned the store for six years. “Before that, she did pop ups in Darien. She started out of her house and did trunk shows, so she knows her clientele really well and specifically targets them,” Myers said. “You come here and you get a lot of attention.”
Tina Dragone, owner of a women’s designer clothing and accessories shop in her name, said her customers get a personal touch whenever they come in.
“We are personal stylists,” she said
Dragone has been in business since 1983 and said her store is “very knowledgeable about fit, style, and color. You’re not going to get that in a mall. We give our customers the full range of services.”
“Time consuming,” “novelty will wear off”
Bill Jensen, owner of Darien Toy Box, said in the beginning, everybody’s going to be curious about the new mall. He said it will attract people for the first few months after it opens.
“So, it will affect us temporarily,” he said.
“I think that we’re all going to feel it, a little bit,” Jensen said. “You’ll see people going there because it’s new and the novelty of what’s there will bring them in, but it will wear off.”
However, he added that the trip will take a lot of extra time that many local people may not have.
“I don’t see people flocking over there to get a pair of trousers, a blouse, or a gift for that day— half an hour to get there, half an hour parking, more than 45 minutes in the mall.”
“Increasing retail options”
Elaine Kirby, owner of Kirby and Company and Kirby Girl, said The SoNo Collection “is good for the area.”
“I don’t see it as a competition. I see it as increasing the retail options,” Kirby said.
“There is a place for both of us, and that’s a good thing. I always feel like when there’s more retail options, it makes us all better retailers,” she added.
She added that she’s excited for the new mall coming into the area and the prospect of it bringing in more local business.
“I know downtown Sono has had a really tough time throughout the years of having good independent retailers,” Kirby said. “For Darien and New Canaan and Rowayton and Greenwich, I don’t think that our core business is going to change. If anything, it might allow new people who may have stopped off of I-95 to find us.”
Whether it’s a Bloomingdale’s or a Nordstrom, “it’s the options for people,” according to Kirby.
“We have answers of ‘Where do I get this?’ Either we send them some place local but if we can’t, it’s nice to know it’s right in Norwalk,” she added.
Change in plans
Baywater Corbin Project developer David Genovese, who developed The Corbin District — a mixed-use redevelopment to be built in downtown Darien — is not concerned with The SoNo Collection taking away Darien’s retail customers.
He said that when The SoNo Collection was first proposed, it was presented by the developer as being “a very high-end mall, along the lines of The Westchester in White Plains or The Short Hills Mall in New Jersey.”
However, as the leasing progress has unfolded, “it does not seem that The SoNo Collection will be offering the kind of tenants originally envisioned,” Genovese said.
Aside from an Apple store, most of the other tenants that will be in the mall “appear to be like those found today in the Stamford Town Center, such as Chico’s, White House Black Market, Soma, Kay Jewelers, L’Occitaine, Tutti Nails, Made in China, and Abercrombie Kids,” he added.
Aside from Nordstrom’s and the Apple store, Genovese said it’s “unlikely” that The Sono Collection will be in competition with Darien’s retailers, which offer “high quality offerings and personalized service.”
Aside from The SoNo Collection being new, Genovese added that he doesn’t see it “attracting sufficient tenants to really have the impact that, say, the Stamford Town Center had on downtown Stamford when it opened in the 1980s.”
Local downtown developer Dan Dolcetti said the new Corbin District means Darien residents will have all they need locally and the SoNo Collection will not affect that.
“This project will be great for Darien. It will make our town walkable. My daughter-in-law, who grew up in California, hated this town when she started living here 18 years ago. Now she loves it. Her complaint was she could not shop in town for her needs. David’s project will allow us to walk, play and shop in town. What a great town it will be,” Dolcetti said.
Darien Chamber executive director Susan Cator said Darien's retail and dining scene “is made up of locally owned businesses that are an integral part of the entire Darien community. The new Corbin District and developments in Noroton Heights, plus what we have in downtown Darien and Goodwives will continue to give people many reasons to choose to shop and dine right here in Darien.”
“Consumers will go where the can find what they need but it is the personal connection and level of service that is the point of difference that delivers value,” she said.
“Darien's unique and locally owned stores and restaurants deliver a high degree of value due to the fact that the level of convenience, service and personal connection is not delivered by most mass stores,” Cator said.
If residents want a “vibrant downtown,” said Genovese, “they should continue to support their local stores.”
“These are not national and multinational companies that can afford a month or two with substantially reduced sales,” Genovese said. “Now, more than ever, we need to make a conscious effort to support our local retailers and restauranteurs.”
Additional reporting by Times Editor Susan Shultz.