Sassafras Gift Shop To Close Doors After 29 Years In SoNo

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Sassafras is closing its doors in SoNo after 29 years in business.
Sassafras is closing its doors in SoNo after 29 years in business. Photo Credit: Cheyenne Haslett
Store owner John Deorio says SoNo has changed over the years.
Store owner John Deorio says SoNo has changed over the years. Photo Credit: Cheyenne Haslett
Sassafras is known for its elaborate Halloween decorations.
Sassafras is known for its elaborate Halloween decorations. Photo Credit: Cheyenne Haslett
Christmas is an important holiday for shoppers at Sassafras.
Christmas is an important holiday for shoppers at Sassafras. Photo Credit: Cheyenne Haslett
There's something for every shopper at Sassafras in South Norwalk.
There's something for every shopper at Sassafras in South Norwalk. Photo Credit: Cheyenne Haslett
Sassafras is famous for its eclectic displays.
Sassafras is famous for its eclectic displays. Photo Credit: Cheyenne Haslett
Shoppers will miss browsing through the stocked shelves at Sassafras in SoNo.
Shoppers will miss browsing through the stocked shelves at Sassafras in SoNo. Photo Credit: Cheyenne Haslett

NORWALK, Conn. -- Sassafras, a store known for its Christmas and Halloween decoration sales in June, is scheduled to close at the end of the month after nearly 30 years in business in South Norwalk.

Owner John Deorio blames the changing face of SoNo -- especially the influx of restaurants -- over the past decade for the demise of the eclectic gift shop. 

His “three major components” of SoNo -- culture, eateries and retail -- have been thrown out of balance, he said. Deorio believes the increase of restaurants decreased the number of shoppers around during the daytime, and he points to the lack of restaurants open for lunch on weekdays as proof. “This type of retail is just not drawing as much,” he said of his famous shop.

Additionally, Deorio points to the competitive shopping districts surrounding SoNo and the lack of free and available parking nearby as reasons for the store’s downfall. “Norwalk Parking Authority is run as a business as opposed to a city service,” Deorio said.

A new parking garage near Sassafras is slated to be complete in a year and a half, but Deorio believes that is too long to wait.

His strong roots in SoNo date to the opening of Sassafras in 1984. The store got its feet on the ground at about the same time South Norwalk did.

Deorio recalled choosing SoNo because of its potential -- the Maritime Aquarium was set to open and a new developer was talking about preserving the sea-faring town's architecture. Deorio was drawn to Sassafras’s central location and the rent, which he described as "very reasonable."

“From 1985 to 1986, the area thrived with art-related stores -- there was wearable art, not cookie cutter chain stores,” said Deorio. SoNo was in its prime in the late 90s, and Sassafras was “hopping.”

Deorio became famous for his holiday enthusiasm, the Christmas decorations he organized for the district and his role as chairman of the event “Twelve Weeks of SoNo,” which began in 1991. He worked with the SoNo Business Association to bring carolers, bag pipes, story tellers, pumpkin-carving contests and professional choral groups to SoNo’s restaurants and stores each week from October to Christmas Eve.

His store reflected that holiday charm, with shelves stocked with Christmas and Halloween decorations, as well as gift items of all sorts. 

Although he plans to close up shop by the end of the month, Deorio is not sure that Sassafras will be gone for good. Customers call his store a “solid staple of SoNo” and tell him they are both “shocked and disappointed” by its closing.

Hearing his customers' pleas, Deorio plans to look into alternate locations but will take a year off to “regenerate.”

After 29 years, Deorio acknowledged that Sassafras has had a good run in the hub of SoMo. “I enjoyed every aspect, most important, seeing the happy faces that leave."

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Comments (17)

Yet another causality of Norwalk's current administration.

This is upsetting. Sassafrass was one of the first stores I went to when I first moved to CT almost 20 years ago. It's tradition that when we go to the Arts Fest, we make a point of going to see the Halloween and Christmas decor at the store, kind of ushering in the Fall season.
It's true what was stated in the article...we used to be able to go to SoNo and walk around and look at all the shops. Now it's all restaurants and more like a ghost town during the day. Now it's just an area to drive thru.
Such a shame. It was a wonderful place to spend the day and then eating at a local joint.
I wish the owners well and hope they come back real soon!

What are you wearing Jake from Allstate? lol
2 posters 1's a poser.

You're right. I called you an "Irish Idiot". I used the American spelling since I was going for the Alliteration factor, which you apparently missed. So, let me correct myself and properly post it as "Irish eejit". There! That looks much better, don't you think?

charaid, teanga iontach, áfach, is féidir na daoine anseo a léamh ar éigean gan trácht ar thuiscint agus tú ag súil le greann a aimsiú i do chuid focal? tisk tisk Paige

Maith, go bhfuil an ceart agat. Ba chóir dom a bheith de chineál a mortals lú.


Gotta go, the storm just broke and the lights are flickering.

Actually I just did and reference your posting history which is filled with attacks in the 2 short days that you have been using this posting names.

Many people have issues, some here have the subscription !

you're the only one.

Paige and Meghan / Megan are all from the Celtic language and mean Pagan, more commonly used today as Margaret.
I have a Paige and Meghan named for my mother Margaret.
Oddly if you are Catholic, Meghan is an acceptable Christian name for baptism where Paige is not. You need another name for baptism as you need another name for Confirmation.

I've seen dreadful misspellings of names on birth forms in the maternity wing. Nurses ask if that is how you want it spelled. To many say yes without questioning the spelling. A wonderful example is Lushous for Luscious.. Lushous Pousse a football player for Illinois State a half a dozen years ago.
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@ Piage;
you can fool some of the people some of the time,..

Broad -

My all time favorite way out name happened back in 2008.

A nine-year-old girl whose parents named her Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii was put into court guardianship in New Zealand so that her name could be changed. Just type her name in the search bar and the stories should come up.

Exactly! Back when people wore those ties and only when they were half price. Think he over bought and had to take a loss on his inventory?

Lets be honest who wants to go and shop among drunks and gangbangers,be robbed or have your car damaged in a unsafe parking area?

Dick Moccia has completed Richs first move to clear out Sono.Now its time to bulldoze and give Norwalk what it truly deserves a couple more tiddy bars and a strip club and South Norwalk will be what it once was a destination for trouble.We certaily can't let East Norwalk have all the trouble at night can we?

Last night at bar closing we saw every officer herding the bar tabbers out of the city.Who protects the rest of the city during this time of bar closing? Its no secret 4 hour minis are given to officers who want to help with bar closing the regular shift does not cover that time period.Who pays for these extra officers during bar closing?

Its ok lets not forget the woman on channel twelve this morning talking about crime in her area and using South Norwalk as an example of trouble.

Lets thank Harrry making sure the brew house is up and running soon can't have enough of those in our fast moving city can we?

Broad River the guy was a Fairfeild prep grad found a nice city and place to settle into and have a great business that paid taxes and hardly ever used city services.Just like the candy store and the Leather place it found itself in a run down cronie run city where not even the best can survive.If you never knew it was there maybe you havn't walked that part of the city in a long time but let e assure you if you wanted a store that enjoy eye candy displays all year round this was it.

Lets now see the Norwalk police capture the robber of what a Mr Frosty's truck last night and make him live in Norwalk for a fine.

Can't buy pot but you can still go to Sono and get plastered,,,oh what a city to boast about let me tell u!

Norwalkers should be proud of what the Mayor has done for the city,in a single hand destroyed any fond memories of what Sono was all about.can't blame Dick blame those who voted him in they share the blame as well.

The parking issue is in part no one wants to travel in that part of the city at night and spend any money for any reason and take a chance and become a victim of sorts.

The big question is how many were arrested last night?

So we now mourn one more store as city is gearing up for culture and art down on Wall st where one can walk and become the next robbery victim,unlike the ice cream truck last night it can pick where it is going to be robbed.

so no one knows,
I moved here in 76. Own my home since 83.
From 76 easily past 86 when I towed my boat home from Vets Park Ramp,(after 11PM) I'd leave my car in first gear at red lights, until I got to the I-95 underpass, because drug dealers and hookers would walk right up to the door window. I was afraid to go around the other way towards Van Zant.
By 90 or 95 I began to go out in SoNo. Places like Amber Jack's and O'Neil's. To tell you the truth the customers in Ed's Place were not all that bad. I played pool there and at the V.F.W. on High St.

I've gone to the Brew House since it opened and the Lighthouse before it turned into Ash Creek
Jeff's Cuisine shut down and it was no surprise to me.
Is the Loft still open? The Ginger Man is thriving.

There is more than one reason one place thrives and another has to close.
I spent a fortune at the Bead Shop for beads and ceramic classes and kids parties.

The store you are talking about might have had a great front window, maybe that's his forte`. My dad (Yale grad ) was a window dresser in Boston before WWII. If he were alive today he would mention who is and is not going to do well with a certain type of business on a certain side of the street
I probably did enjoy his shop front window but the Jesuits failed to explain the importance of signage to him. I cannot visualize the the shop sign right now and I have the name in my head. I've been in at least half the p[laces on both sides of that block for 30+ years.
Sometimes Location is Key, most of the time really. I don't think restaurants not opening til dinner or clubs getting out at 2AM interfered with his business. The shear fact that there are just so many Christmas knickknacks a home can have or use, maybe he saturated the market after 29 years and of course my daughters and their grandmothers shopping habits are eons apart.
We can all point fingers and place blame elsewhere.
All 3 of my children went to Norwalk public schools. One got scholarships during her stay at UCONN and another got a full 4 year academic ride at the Univ. of New Hampshire. So apparently it's not the schools here in town not teaching the kids. My 2002 and 03 kids excelled wonderfully at Norwalk Schools.

I dealt with the Jesuits but truthfully it was nuns that prepared me for Parris Island. In 68 I had a draft deferment but it wasn't because I was in college it was because Norden's offered me a job. Maybe if I stayed in Public schools I would have gone to University.

Sometimes having a Specialty Business you need to keep your feet moving and change locale to accommodate your prospective customers.
Blaming Dick Moccia does not stand alone as a reason to go out of business.
I worked in the same business and the same building for 30 years but I re-invented myself in several roles while there. I left to retire at 51. 12+ years later I'm still here in Norwalk in my own home.
If you fail to plan then you plan to fail

I've never heard of the place. Does he advertise? If the restaurants are closed during the day, what's his parking issue! Could be the advent of places like eBay over the last 30 years and his lack of price competitiveness. Perhaps my grandmother would have drooled over his wares but time, people and culture change and his merchandise is seasonal.
Consider the ole record shops as one example. My kids don't even buy CD's, it's all iTunes now.