Will new Norwalk mall affect Wilton businesses?

Construction workers with Brookfield Properties paint the garage exterior at the SoNo Collection mall on July 30, in Norwalk. The one-million-square-foot mall plans to open in the fall of this year.

Construction workers with Brookfield Properties paint the garage exterior at the SoNo Collection mall on July 30, in Norwalk. The one-million-square-foot mall plans to open in the fall of this year.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

As work continues on construction of the new SoNo Collection mall in South Norwalk, one of its anchor stores, Nordstrom, recently announced it plans to open on Friday, Oct. 11.

In addition to Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s will be the other anchor store at the 700,000-square-foot upscale mall. They will be joined by another 80 to 100 smaller retail stores such as Abercrombie Kids, Kay Jewelers, and Sephora.

The mall will also have over 87,000 square feet of public space including an indoor/outdoor sculpture garden, rooftop garden, and potential museum and education space, according to the mall’s website.

Some business professionals are speculating on whether the new mall will have a negative impact on other malls in the area such as the ones in Stamford, Danbury, and Trumbull.

But what about Wilton, which shares a border with Norwalk? Are Wilton stores and businesses likely to be affected by the new retail behemoth?

Leland Wilson, president of Wilson Properties, a commercial real estate firm in Wilton, doesn’t believe the SoNo mall will have a dramatic impact on the town. “Wilton doesn’t have a lot of destination retail, so it’s not in direct competition with it,” he said.

In Wilton, he said, many retail tenants are food oriented or provide personal services.

“Wilton Center caters predominantly to the local market. There have been national retailers in Wilton Center that have left [The Gap, for one], and those stores are still vacant,” he said.

Still, he said, he knows initially people in Wilton will hop on the train to check out the new mall. “I’m sure there will be some impact, but it may take a year or so for everyone to satisfy their curiosity,” he said.

He said the SoNo mall is more likely to affect retailers in Fairfield County which draw on the region for business, such as stores in Greenwich and Stamford.

Ultimately, he said, the mall could end up being an asset to Wilton. “It’s a lot closer than having to travel to Stamford or Greenwich if you want to do some high-end shopping,” he said.

Dominick Musilli, managing partner of True Commercial Real Estate in Wilton, agreed with Wilson.

“I don’t think the mall will affect Wilton. It caters to national retailers. There is not a lot of overlap with the type of retailer in Wilton,” he said.

He said he sees more impact with the malls in Stamford, Danbury and Trumbull, and stores in Greenwich and Westport.

Debra Hanson, executive director of Wilton’s Chamber of Commerce, said she shares concerns she hears from retailers about competing with online sales. “Our main directive is to keep promoting ‘shopping local’ and supporting your community. Hopefully, there is enough room for everybody,” she said.

Last mall in America?

Some retail analysts have predicted the SoNo Collection could represent the last newly constructed, enclosed mall in the country for the foreseeable future, as Amazon continues to lure shoppers and as newer retail developments emphasize outdoor settings, according to a story by The Hour.

While Nordstrom prepares for the unveiling of its 140,000-square-foot store on Oct. 11 at the SoNo mall, the anchor is also facing impact from online retailers.

Nordstrom has struggled to establish momentum as more people shop on Amazon, according to The Hour. Nordstrom sales were down 3 percent in the first quarter of the year to $3.35 billion, with profits trimmed by more than half to $37 million. The company recently cut its revenue forecast for the year, with Nordstrom now expecting a decline of up to 2 percent after an earlier prediction of a slight gain.

Like many other retailers, Nordstrom is focusing itself on expanding online sales while attempting to link that presence to stores in key markets. That includes new stores in Norwalk and in New York City where on Oct. 24 Nordstrom is opening a new flagship department store at Central Park Tower.

“Clearly, our model needs to change — our business model which was born in brick and mortar stores — and defines what the role of stores is,” said Erik Nordstrom, co-president of Nordstrom, speaking in May on a recorded conference call with investment analysts.

“Our stores still have that role of having great salespeople who are taking care of one customer at a time and making some genuine human connection — that’s in our DNA and that continues to be important — but increasingly, stores play a fulfillment role. They’re locations where customers can pick up online orders and they’re locations that we fill online orders from. So, we have moved our labor model in our stores to reflect what customers want and need.”

Whether the new model will work at the SoNo mall remains to be seen.

Alexander Soule contributed to this story.