Fall events in Ridgefield are being retooled for COVID
Shoppers, strollers, disposable dollars on the march — yes! Crowds filling the sidewalks? Maybe not this year.
To keep commerce — and Ridgefield’s business community and cherished Main Street — thriving in the age of coronavirus, a fall full of town events, including the Christmas season’s signature Holiday Stroll, is being redesigned.
“Because we can’t do crowd stuff we’re wanting to do some activities that people can come and enjoy over the course of a few weeks,” said Mary Jones of Rodier Flowers, president of the Downtown Ridgefield business association.
“They can come in to shop and visit without, you know, worrying so much about being too close.”
Numerous annual Ridgefield events are being retooled this year.
Fall in Love With Ridgefield will stretch from Oct. 17 to Oct. 31, rather than be a jam-packed weekend;
The Ridgefield Independent Film Festival (RIFF) will run Oct. 14 to 18, with some world premiers and a smorgasbord of new movies, but in consolidated format — rather using several venues around town, all live screenings will be at the Ridgefield Theater Barn on Halpin Lane, and films will also be live-streamed (See other story);
SCOR’s Columbus Day weekend soccer tournament will be Saturday Oct. 10 and Sunday, Oct. 11, but will involve “in town teams only” and be limited to Barlow Mountain and Scotland School fields.
The pumpkin patch at Jesse Lee Church, starting Oct. 17, will not have truckloads of pumpkins to sell, but offer plywood pumpkins to benefit the Navajos.
And the Holiday Stroll, which for years has filled sidewalks on an early December weekend, will be replaced with the Ridgefield Holiday Village lasting nearly a month.
“The idea behind Ridgefield Holiday Village is to keep people in town to shop, and to spread the crowd out over four weekends or more,” said Geoffrey Morris, chairman of the town’s Economic and Community Development Commission (ECDC).
“It will start the weekend after Thanksgiving and lead up to the weekend before Christmas,” he said.
“We hope to have the downtown lit up, decorated, and very festive, while offering things for all to do — hear music, decorate, take carriage rides, and more.
“Lounsbury House and Ballard Park will be anchor points where Ridgefield vendors can sell goods and food.
“The theme running through everything we do is safety,” Morris added. “There is a COVID safety committee that will ensure that all aspects of the Ridgefield Holiday Village adhere to all state protocols for safety. First Selectman Rudy Marconi will be an active member of that committee.
“What's more we are looking for financial support from various outlets,” Morris said.
“The Holiday Stroll has always been of the merchants, by the merchants, and for the merchants. This year merchants don’t have the funds to support fully, so we will be looking for donors, sponsors, and other supporters.
“The Holiday Stroll has been so successful that it did not make sense to organize this year, because of the thousands who attend,” he said. “However I’m sure Downtown Ridgefield would bring it back next year if things are safe.”
The Ridgefield Holiday Village is being organized by ECDC in cooperation with The Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Ridgefield.
Fall in Love
Fall in Love with Ridgefield joins The Holiday Stroll among four major seasonal events put on to combine business with fun and bring people to town.
“It’s very low-key this year,” Jones, of Downtown Ridgefield, said of the Fall in Love event.
“A lot of what we normal do is very touchy-touchy,” she said. “But we’re going to have a DJ playing some music.
“We’re going to host the Keeler Tavern’s scarecrow contest again.
“Parks and Rec are going to have window-painting in town,” she added.
Halloween-painted windows and scarecrows will bring a seasonal flavor to the village.
Why not take some selfies?
Jones said another idea in the concept stages is to have “selfie” photo contests with prizes.
“The scarecrows will be up. People can some in and see what offerings the merchants have, they can post photos and we’ll do some sort of photo contest at the end,” she said.
“We’re going to have autumn-themed things,” she said. “... Merchants will have their wares available. People can shop indoors, outdoors. The restaurants will have some sort of fall theme.
“It’s very loose this year,” Jones said. “For the remainder of October, merchants plan some fun activities, and more to come.”
Still, while they aren’t meant to draw large crowds all at once, the Fall in Love events and later Holiday Village meant to bring a vibrancy to the commercial districts that will draw Ridgefielders to shop — in their hometown.
“Come support your town. Come support your merchants,” Jones said.
“Being local and small, you’re not around the crowds of a major mall scene. You’re staying local.
Retooling the Holiday Stroll as the Ridgefield Holiday Village is significant simply because the event has grown so successful over the years, drawing huge crowds — especially on the Friday night when there are carolers and carriage rides.
Many of the elements that made the stroll a success will be incorporated in the more leisurely Holiday Village plans.
“The Holiday Stroll was designed to gather crowds all in one weekend,” Jones said.
“For the Holiday Village what we want to do is make sure there’s always something interesting, so people can come over the course of weeks and do their shopping in comfort, with less crowds all at once, but more activity in town.
“We’re planning different activities and different points of interest for all the weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“The downtown merchants are very very concerned when it comes to the well-being of the shoppers,” Jones added.
The merchants have limits on the number of people allowed in stores at one time — but that’s only the start.
“They have cleanings upon the hour. Very fastidious about making sure folks are wearing masks, both in terms of their staff, and customers entering,” Jones said.
“A lot of the stores have either redesigned the way their furniture flows, or their traffic flows, so there are less people bumping into each other face to face.
“A lot of sanitizing along the way,” she added.
“And all of the activities that we’ve ever done, we’re looking to say: ‘How can we do something similar? If the activities of the past were too much of a crowd gatherer, or too much touching, how can we change it?
“It’s really very very heartwarming to see. Because the merchants, of course they want a strong holiday season business-wise and shopping-wise, and of course it’s important to them…
“All of our meetings, when we talk about what can we do and create foot traffic downtown, always, always: How do we do so in a safe manner?” she said.
“We all love our town and we all want our merchants to be here — a town with empty stores isn’t much of a town center.”