Interview with Louis Sagar about Zona, his SoHo store

Zona’s Greene Street Location, ca. 1984

Before SoHo was the home design capital of New York City, there was Zona. Co-founded by Louis Sagar in 1980, it was one of the first stores of its kind, and one of the first large-scale retail establishments in SoHo. Here’s Lou’s SoHo store story!

Where was Zona located and when did you open the store?

We opened Zona in the winter of 1980 on Broome Street below The Kitchen, a popular theatrical and performance space. After we spent five years in 1,000 square feet on Broome Street, we moved to Greene Street into 3,000 square feet, where we spent the next 12 years.

What kind of store was Zona?

My vision as the founder was inspired by a desire to help our customers use their homes as a canvas for creative self-expression, as a sanctuary for safety and comfort in alignment with nature and the senses, from sound to sight to touch to taste and smell.

The shop opened with a show of ceramic and bronze bells designed by the visionary architect, Paolo Soleri, produced in his Arizona workshop. Our entire family spent time in Arizona helping to build the early pieces at Arcosanti, north of Phoenix, which is now a showcase for dance, theatre, and performance art. 

In the store, to help stimulate the senses, we played new age music, Brian Eno, Steve Halpern, and others and began selling cassettes. It was not long before I recognized that the bells and cassettes were not going to be sufficient to operate a business, so I began importing teak garden furniture from England, a great complement to the bells, many of which were designed to hang outdoors. Our store was quite a contrast to the stark streets of SoHo, often dark and gritty.

Did your store change with the changing neighborhood? If yes, how?

As the neighborhood gentrified, we continued to evolve and change. We expanded into a lifestyle emporium by bringing in home furnishings, art, found objects, and lifestyle gifts. Many of our customers had homes outside of the city where they connected with nature, so we sold gardening tools, planters, and indoor paperwhites in collaboration with Smith and Hawken.

Do you have any stories you would like to share about Zona?

I think one of my fondest memories is how many people loved our gift wrapping and gift boxes. For several Christmas seasons, people waited in lines down the street to come in and shop in the store for the holidays. Folks came in specifically to purchase our gift boxes. This was way before online shopping. I still meet people today who tell me they loved the store, …and the gift-wrapping!

When did Zona close? Why did it close? 

Zona faced many challenges to remain an independent business as competition increased in the home furnishings industry and rents increased. There was pressure to open more locations, but it was a very unique concept and difficult to replicate. We sold the business in 1998, and I think of it to this day as a beautiful project that was birthed in SoHo and made its exit as the neighborhood became more commercialized.

What have you been up to since? And what are you up to now?

I am the founder and CEO of The Alchemist’s Kitchen, which is located on Frist Street between Second Avenue and Bowery. We celebrate the power of plants and produce our own herbal and botanical medicines, including our Plant Alchemy CBD.

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