Holiday sales strong but online competition felt by Ridgefield merchants

Prospective shoppers stroll Ridgefield's Main Street on Friday, Jan. 3.

Prospective shoppers stroll Ridgefield’s Main Street on Friday, Jan. 3.

Macklin Reid / Hearst Connecticut Media

Holiday bells rang in cash registers around Ridgefield this December.

The season was bright, with stores visited by plenty of shoppers — many of them spending — despite inroads by online shopping and a somewhat shortened 2019 holiday season, retailers told The Press in an unscientific survey of gift-oriented stores in Ridgefield’s village commercial district on Friday, Jan. 3.

The Holiday Stroll on Dec. 6 and 7 brought out crowds, retailers said, and male shoppers provided a last-ditch spending surge late in the season — some things never change.

“We had a very good year. It was busy — Holiday Stroll and all,” said Teri Weston at Turkey Ridge gift shop on Bailey Avenue. “We were definitely busy, lots of shoppers — local, out of town.

“Of course, The Stroll was excellent with the good weather,” Weston said. “It was a short season — only four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. All the men came out on Christmas Eve.”

“Were people shopping Ridgefield? I would say ‘yes’ — particularly toward the last week or so,” said Ellen Burns of Books on the Common, at the corner of Main Street and Bailey Avenue.

“We had a good season,” she said.

“The shopping season was a week shorter, but it was still good,” she said. “Christmas Eve was our biggest revenue day of the year.”

“Christmas Eve was 10 times an average day,” said Darwin Ellis, Burns’ husband and co-owner of the bookstore.

“Our UPS driver was complaining he’s so overloaded with Amazon deliveries — that doesn’t sound like shopping local to me,” Ellis added.

Nationwide, online shopping has been taking a bigger bite out of overall spending.

“U.S. holiday shoppers spend 19% more on their online shopping this year than they did a year ago, according to data from Mastercard SpendingPlus,” the business journal Barron’s reported on Dec. 26. “In-store sales also rose a comparatively small 1.2%, as e-commerce reached a record high share of nearly 15% of total sales.”

“Overall for the year we’re flat — sales are not up, they weren’t down, despite the fact we had a shorter holiday season,” Burns said of Books on the Common. “In terms of business, flat is good these days.”

Burns added that she’d found no difficulty living up to the shop local ideal herself.

“I also did all of my Christmas shopping within walking distance of the bookstore,” she said.

Happy and bright

“It was great. I’m really thankful,” said Ursula Hanavan of Designs by Ursula, selling gifts and decorative interior items on Main Street. “Honestly, it was fantastic. People were shopping locally. Everyone was happy and bright.

“I’m really grateful to them,” she said. “I really appreciate that they got out of their jammies, got in their car, drove to Main Street and walked in and appreciated the fact that I curate treasures for them.”

In November, Hanavan celebrated the 10th anniversary in business on Main Street.

“It’s gone by so fast. I couldn’t do it without them. I’m very grateful,” she said.

“Ridgefield’s alive and thriving. I had a really happy thing happen this season. I met a lot of Ridgefielders who’d never been in my store before,” she added. “I do stay open later — especially when The Playhouse has events.”

So Hanavan meets a lot of out-of-town people who eventually become clients.

“They reached out after they were here. … I share clients with Audrey Road, Billy Craig, Hutton’s, Elizabella’s and The Loft at Bissell’s,” she said. “So it’s important we each carry individual products, so we can cross-pollinate our products and not just have the same old thing. That’s really why I do curate what I bring in.”

No big boxes

Hanavan added that she believed Ridgefield shop owners are fortunate because the town doesn’t appeal to bigger box stores.

“We’re all mom-and-pop’s,” she said. “We take great interest in our stores and we care about our clients. We’re sole proprietors — that’s why I think we’re so successful in Ridgefield.

“Look at how lucky we are. We have our own bookstore, our own hardware stores, our own candy store, our own interior store, gift store, men’s store, women’s store, bakery shop. We have a downtown pharmacy that is not a big box store pharmacy. Who else has that? We are such a jewel. I feel lucky to be part of this.

“The one thing I hope people remember: We are all open 12 months out of the year, not just at Christmas time,” Hanavan added. “When you’re looking for that quick gift, think of us!”

At The Toy Chest, which has been in Ridgefield for 27 years and on Main Street for 24 years, owner Ann Lathrop reported a strong holiday season.

“It went well. I think people like to shop local — I really do,” she said. “We did a lot of gift wrapping. I was pleased.”

She thought The Holiday Stroll was successful at drawing people, who often returned later to buy gifts.

“You get them in your store, they know you’re here, and they come back. We had a good night,” Lathrop said.

The shopping season was shorter by six days “but we had no snow days,” she said.

“We had good weather, which I think helps.

“You have to be active in town,” Lathrop said. “We sponsor T-ball teams, we do the summer reading program at the library.

“We’re open seven days a week — the secret of retail, you’ve got to be open!

“It’s important to like what you do,” she added. “I love what I do.”

Appreciating retail

“I think it was softer than other years. Our season was good, but we can see that other retail venues are encroaching on the business that the brick-and-mortar stores do,” said Douglas Hutton of Hutton’s Fine Menswear.

The store has operated in town since 2005 and has been located on Bailey Avenue in the village since about 2011 or 2012, he said.

“We’re lucky to be in a town that still appreciates retail, still likes to get out, go downtown, cruise the stores,” he said. “It’s a community that invites people to be out on the street.”

“Really well. We had a great time,” said Meg Williams at Audrey Road, a ladies’ fashion shop on Bailey Avenue. “We were open right up until 4 on Christmas Eve. Most of our stock flew out.”

“It wasn’t as good as last year,” said Susan Buzaid, a co-owner of the Main Street shop Olley Court.

“We’re still doing year-end — definitely softer than a normal year. But the season itself, from The Stroll forward, was positive,” Buzaid said.

“This is our twelfth year. It was sort of an overall lackluster year, although December proved to be a successful December,” she added. “... We did have some of our amazing loyal customers who come back every year, and we had a successful season — but I think Amazon had a more successful season.”

Buzaid recognized that there’s a lot of online shopping being done by Ridgefielders.

“Your downtown is here for you,” she said. “If you want to have a downtown, they have to support their downtown.”

She lamented that The Holiday Stroll, while bringing out crowds, has become less of a shopping occasion and more just a social event.

“I think what has happened over the years, people come for The Stroll to drink and have a party,” she said.

“The focus has gotten off shopping, and it’s more drinking and eating,” said Buzaid.

“It’s not put on by the town — it’s put on by the shops,” she said. “The stores really present The Stroll — with help from the landlords and the bank — but the money isn’t coming from the town.”

Kathy Graham of Fairfield County Bank outlined The Stroll’s costs.

“This year the Holiday Stroll cost approximately $27,000,” she said. “$22,600 was raised from sponsorships — of that $5,000 was donated by the Holiday Trust Fund. Every year Fairfield County Bank donates $2,500 towards the horse and carriages — the remainder of the horse and carriage sponsors are landlords. We encourage that as a way for the landlords to give back to their tenants since the Holiday Stroll is the biggest retail event Ridgefield has.

“Other members sponsor the other events like the ice sculptures, magician, DJ, etc. The difference between the money raised by sponsorships and the remaining cost of the event is made up from the dues the merchants pay to be a member of Downtown Ridgefield,” Graham said.

Steady shoppers

“The season was very good,” said Wayne Addessi of Addessi Jewelers on Main Street. “We had a great season.

“The first half-year was kind of quiet. From July on it just started to increase. We were ready for Christmas by Thanksgiving.

“Our business has changed so much over the last 10 years. People are shopping more steadily...

“People plan ahead,” said Thomas Addessi, Wayne’s son, who is the third generation in a business with a 72-year tradition of selling jewelry in the Danbury area, including 53 years on Ridgefield’s Main Street. “We even had people in July that were planning for Christmas just because at that time of year we were running a promotion.”

“With Christmas, people start to plan a little bit ahead of time — October, November,” Wayne Addessi said. “They’re less impulsive. Our strategy is to reach out to people well before December — back in the summer we start.

“We’re less stressed at Christmas time, because people give us more time to plan their gifting,” Wayne Addessi said. “That’s because we’re custom-making a lot of pieces now.

“The work ethic, that hasn’t changed,” he added. “How we take care of our customers — we haven’t veered from that...

“We do have that pipeline of customers that are dedicated to us,” he said. “They live all over the world now and they shop with us through email. We send videos, pictures. We put a video together, send it to a customer overseas, and start a conversation.

“We don’t have that big spike at Christmas like we used to in the jewelry business. It’s steady all year now. And slow and steady wins the race.”

As a landlord who owns a block of Main Street storefronts, Addessi said his tenants and other neighboring businesses share an approach.

“We’re all working hard. All of us love this town, and it’s a special place — it’s kind of magical.” he said.

Beyond expectations

One of Addessi’s new tenants on Main Street is Zoe & Co Sugarbeads, a jewelry and gifts shop run by Andi and Peter Schoellkopf and their daughter Julie, with son Jason providing online support for the shop’s website:

“It was actually phenomenal,” Andi Schoellkopf said the holiday season at Zoe & Company. “It was fantastic and bright and shiny and wonderful — beyond our expectations.

“The holiday season was perfect for us — it acted as an introduction for us,” said Schoellkopf, whose store moved to Main Street from the Copps Hill area in September. “People would come in and say ‘I had no idea you were here!’ because we’re in a brand-new location.

“The Holiday Stroll, we went through five gallons of spiked cider and three gallons of punch for the kids,” she said. “The Holiday Stroll was phenomenal for us, we had so many people coming for the first time, and many many people came back and shopped after that, and we also had people shopping during The Stroll.”

She said Zoe & Company filled a niche with price offerings below what people would find at other jewelry stores.

“Our lowest price is about $20, and we go up to $500 — they start at $500,” she said.

“I think people were really thrilled to find that middle range.”

She loved being downtown for The Holiday Stroll and the Christmas season.

“It’s so pretty with the horse carriages and the lights,” she said. “For us, it’s a joy to be here.”

“It’s one of our best years ever. We had a busy season,” said Jeannine Bruey at Ridgefield Hardware on Main Street.

“We sell a lot of Christmas lights, Christmas tree stands. A lot of gifts and stuff — power tools for gifts.”

Loving, patient

At Touch of Sedona on Main Street, proprietor Marge Courtney said the season had been very good.

“Great. For me it was excellent,” she said. “People came in. What I was most impressed with was the attitude of people, which was very loving, very patient.

“I sold a lot of larger items and, of course, a lot of smaller items. This was probably one of my best seasons,” said Courtney, who for 23 years has been selling a mix that ranges from Native American jewelry and art to Tarot Cards and a variety of readings. ... I’m getting a good reading for the new year.”

Lucy’s, selling women’s fashions on Main Street for the last 13 years, also reported a successful season — and Lucy’s manager Patrice Wrage felt The Holiday Stroll was becoming more successful at drawing people who are willing to spend in the stores.

“It was very good,” said Wrage.

“We definitely noticed The Holiday Stroll has become more of a shopping event. In past years it wasn’t as strong for selling — there’s people, and it’s a wonderful event, but for our store we weren’t selling.”

Last year and this year that began to change for the better.

“Back in the day, no one came in past where the bar was,” she said. “That’s totally changed.”

A successful Stroll led to a strong overall season.

“I think it took longer for us to gear up, and then it was great,” she said.

“The end of November was quiet, and then it took off once December started.”