Originally published in The Northern Light.
Welcome to the SoNo district. A few blocks and even fewer stores sprawled across Sixth Avenue to Eighth Avenue, and then from E street to C Street, compromise the area of downtown Anchorage known as the SoNo district.
Created through collaboration by local businesses in the area in 2005, the SoNo district became the first official district in downtown Anchorage. The district was proclaimed by Mayor Mark Begich Dec. 1, 2005. The goal of SoNo is to create a destination that is recognizable by locals and tourists as a destination for shopping and entertainment.
“Our goal with SoNo was to create a hip shopping and dining destination downtown. Over the years we have organized Fashion Shows and group promotions to attract customers to our district,” Ellen Arvold, owner of Second Run, said.
Notable stores and businesses in the SoNo district include Bernie’s Bungalow Lounge, Chez Ritz, Second Run, Blush Boutique and Houtghton Hill.
SoNo, or South of Nordstrom, pays homage to the trendy and hip neighborhood SoHo [South of Houston street] of Lower Manhattan. SoHo derived its name from urban planner Chester Rapkin, who used the short and catchy name as a way to attract real estate investors to the area. It worked and SoHo, once a largely abandoned textile industrial area, soon became the destination for artists and wealthy people alike.
Unlike SoHo, SoNo is riding the wave of notoriety brought by the success of SoHo’s re-vamp. Although, like SoHo, SoNo is a destination filled with particular shops and boutiques attracting a higher class and more style savvy shopper.
“I think that there are some very nice places in Anchorage to shop, but I don’t think people in Anchorage really seek out high fashion, and more often than not laugh at it for being so impractical. I think the boutiques that do best in Anchorage have brought high-end but not necessarily high-fashion that is great quality and durable, and practical for the climate,” Cleo Anderson, who has worked in downtown Anchorage and is an artist at Beyond Beads boutique, said.
Most people who are familiar with the boutiques in the area have adopted the term, South of Nordstrom, hence the creation of the district.
“We have seen the name catch on, but it is more of an easy term to describe our location to people unfamiliar with the area,” VaLori Gianni, store manager of Blush Boutique since 2010, said.
Others are less familiar with the SoNo district and the vision the stores that encompass it want to portray.
“Yeah I’ve heard of SoNo, but I didn’t know that they made it up themselves. I feel like if they associated that term with shopping and fashion more frequently on social media or in their stores, people might start to think of that area as a shopping destination. But I can’t say I feel like they’ve created that image yet,” Anderson said.
There are some who have never heard of the district at all.
Jenelle Bennett, who’s been working in the downtown area for years, has never heard the term SoNo.
“I have no clue what SoNo is. Should I know? Does it go by a different name? No I think you’re the first person who’s ever mentioned it to me,” Bennett said.
As well as Britt McLeod, who worked at Kill Joy downtown until they closed, has also never heard of the district of downtown.
“I’ve never heard of SoNo district. How long as it been around? What is it?” McLeod said.
Since the creation of SoNo district two other districts, G Street Arts District and Convention Center District, in downtown Anchorage have been proclaimed as a part of the downtown renewal project, a project aimed at revitalizing downtown Anchorage.