Long before shop doors open at Danbury Fair Mall, the center is abuzz. Mall walkers get in their exercise, coffee klatches meet daily to chat over a cuppa’, hybrid workers take advantage of the internet friendly sleek workspaces, and caregivers share a moment of much needed comraderie as the little ones enjoy the playground – all gathering in a community committed to culture and togetherness.
In a retail-challenged atmosphere of reduced traffic and closed stores, shopping complexes across America have been forced to reinvent themselves. Owners of the Danbury Fair Mall, however, had already been on the cutting edge of creative thinking, always searching for new and exciting ways to keep their visitors engaged.
Inspired by the post-pandemic recovery, efforts were upped to showcase the arts with the goal of lifting spirits and building confidence to start anew. In 2022, they collaborated with the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut (CAWC) and invested approximately $90,000 to commission a large format wall mural that was created on site by Los Angeles based artist Kiptoe. The thinking behind this was – why leave the vast space left empty by recently vacated Lord and Taylor looking like a big blank wall? Instead, they turned a negative into a positive by using the 1,800 square foot floor to ceiling mural to become part of a program entitled Re-Emergence and Awakening. By incorporating a Movable Mural Project, curated by the CAWC and Art in Common, weekly “art on the mall” talks and local talent were featured. The mural, which is worthy of spending time with, is a powerful and timely piece and can still be seen in the Apple wing on Level Two of the center.
During its creation, people came just to sit and watch the towering mural unfold, often engaging with the artist as well as total strangers who were equally enthralled with the process and the message the piece would deliver. This is just one of the many pop-up art shows, galas, and events that draws people to the retail center for reasons beyond just shopping.
General Manager Maura Ruby says that they wanted to do what they have always done, which was to pay homage to the historical fairgrounds that once drew hundreds of thousands of visitors yearly. “The fair always brought people together and we try to continue that theme,” says Ruby.
The Danbury Fair Mall was built on the 142-acre site of the Great Danbury State Fair which started as an agricultural fair in 1891 and grew to a popular yearly event. Traffic would be backed up for hours between Ridgefield and Danbury as thousands of people attended. When it finally closed in 1981, it was estimated that 400,000 people visited that year alone.
When the retail center opened its doors in 1986, owners gave a nod to the history with strategically placed memorabilia and by adding a carousel, characteristic of a fair and a reminder that the property was always intended as a place to bring people together. Macerich, current owner of the Danbury Fair Mall, continues to champion the arts and non-profits. For example, tossing a coin into the fountain to make a wish—that goes to Habitat for Humanity.
While the mall may be 98% filled, Ruby says they continue to focus on what they have done from the very beginning 38 years ago – developing and cultivating their relationships, especially in the arts. They wanted people to feel “bright” about what was happening.
Furthermore, because the mall is also about retail, she adds that they like to find “cool innovative uses” for the empty spaces awaiting tenants. This includes pop up venues for entrepreneurial, local, and home-grown businesses, giving them space in a high visibility space. Even during the early days when mall life was new, local craftsmen were invited to display their creations. Ruby says this has always been a boost for customers who enjoy “creative concepts from balloon art, local bakeries, handmade jewelry and craft concepts typically showcased at community fairs.”
Over the past two years there have been weekly movable art exhibits with nightly discussion groups drawing people of all ages where artists could showcase their work and talk about what got them into the artistic lane. If you visited the mall last summer you would have witnessed firsthand the ongoing collaboration with Western Connecticut State University where in conjunction with the CAWC, prime local gallery space was awarded at no charge to host the opening reception and promotion of their Human Connection art exhibit.
“We want to continue the legacy of being a place for families to gather, experience community, and build commerce,” Ruby