Will new Norwalk mall affect Westport businesses?
The SoNo Collection mall in Norwalk is not scheduled to open until October, but its grand presence has invited questions about its potential impact on retailers in Westport.
The massive construction will host a number of stores including Fairfield County’s first Nordstrom, which recently announced its plans to open on Oct. 11. Bloomingdale’s will be another anchor store at the 700,000-square-foot mall.
Despite the influx of new stores for shoppers to choose from, some say retailers in neighboring Westport have unique advantages to compete in the marketplace.
David Waldman, president of David Adam Realty, a commercial real estate firm in Westport, said he doesn’t expect the mall to have as dramatic an impact on local retailers in town.
“There are examples of phenomenal shopping areas around malls in the country,” Waldman said.
More likely to be affected are the few large retailers that exist in Westport, like the Gap clothing store on Main Street. Westport stores, in general, will have luck vying for consumer dollars due to established relationships with the communities they are in, Waldman said.
But naturally, there will be differences in the stores seen in a mall versus local shops, he added.
“In today’s world, a lot of people wonder will malls survive. They survive because they’re not particularly being designed as retail shopping centers. They’re more of an entertainment center,” Waldman said. “The mall being a massive corporation also allows for stores that wouldn’t normally be in our marketplace.”
Randy Herbertson, president of Westport Downtown Merchants Association, said the mall would have some impact, but Westport has an opportunity to differentiate itself.
“A lot of the stores coming into downtown Westport have a different profile than what are typically going into malls,” Herbertson said.
Specialty stores have also become more of a hot commodity, he said, and not only due to an incoming mall, but to compete against online retailers.
“It’s all about relationships and experiences,” Herbertson said. “You’re seeing more and more stores that do both. Owners in the stores are building relationships with their customers.”
Stores like Savannah Bee — a specialty honey store — have great community outreach through hosting events and more, he added. “They’ve built relationships and constantly have new experiences going on at their stores.”
With the SoNo Collection expected to open in the coming months, Herbertson said his organization continues to be proactive in reminding residents of Westport’s unique downtown.
“It doesn’t do any good to sit on the sidelines and be scared,” he said. “You have to actively build on your strengths.”
Despite two strong anchors in Nordstrom and Bloomingdale, the new mall could still find difficulty in recreating one thing — Westport’s small-town experience. For Waldman, this is where Westport can separate itself from the mall.
“It can’t give an environment like a downtown Westport,” he said. “It’s not going to have the soul and flavor that you see in a downtown.”