Ridgefield Holiday Village reprises roll of Holiday Stroll
The vision for a Ridgefield Holiday Village — “the magic of an outdoor European holiday market” — is alluring. And the goal of bringing shoppers to Ridgefield businesses is widely shared. But making the idea work — for everyone — is, well, complicated.
The Downtown Ridgefield merchants association raised some red flags, but their concerns have been addressed and village retailers are now supportive, according to Geoffrey Morris of the Economic and Community Development Commission. The “ECDC” as the economic commission is known, has emerged as chief organizer of the four-weekend Holiday Village effort.
“Yes, we met with Mary Jones and others from DTR (Downtown Ridgefield) board and we are all on the same page with the event,” Morris wrote in an email Monday, Nov. 9.
The Ridgefield Holiday Village was conceived as a replacement for the Holiday Stroll — a one-weekend event started by the Downtown Ridgefield merchants, which had drawn huge crowds in recent years, making it untenable in the COVID-19 era.
“We are thrilled that some aspects of the Holiday Stroll will be evident in this year's Holiday Village,” Morris said. “DTR has done amazing work creating this event over the last 20 years.”
Holiday Village boosters and skeptics spoke at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting Wednesday night, Nov. 4.
Mary Jones of Rodier Flowers, the president of Downtown Ridgefield, voiced village businesses’ concerns.
“We are not in support of vendors anywhere in the downtown region,” she said. “We are in support of Ridgefield shops being supported exactly where they live ...
“Bringing booths to town brings more crowds to downtown Main Street,” she said. “It can become less COVID-safe than if we just let everyone shop.”
But booths — a kind of commercial tent village — were a big part of the Holiday Village concept. A press release from the ECDC laid out the vision:
“The Holiday Village aims to bring the magic of an outdoor European holiday market, combined with the safety of an outdoor shopping experience, to Ridgefield this holiday season.
“It will include shopping, live music, Christmas trivia, food, and a tree-lighting ceremony.
“The Ridgefield Holiday Village will take place during four consecutive weekends, from Nov. 27 to Dec, 20 in Downtown Ridgefield ...
Downtown Ridgefield will be open for business as usual, with extended holiday hours on four consecutive weekends starting Nov. 27. Additionally, temporary pop-up shops that complement downtown merchants will be set up in Ballard Park and Lounsbury House, offering additional sales of goods and gift items. Urstadt Biddle Properties will provide a retail space on Bailey Avenue as a gift-wrapping and Holiday Village information center, the ECDC release said.
“Anchored between Lounsbury House and Ballard Park, the Holiday Village includes all businesses in between. This year, the Holiday Village will replace the Holiday Stroll.”
At the selectmen’s meeting the ECDC’s Steve Spivak was chief spokesman for the event.
“We’ve made some significant progress,” he said.
“Some key features will be performances in the Gazebo in Ballard Park or on the stage in Ballard Park from different musical groups.”
There are also plans for a DJ on Main Street “along with stilt walkers and some jugglers,” Spivak said.
“We have a laser light show planned, a holiday themed laser light show,” he said.
“And we’re working on carriage rides and potentially there will still be the ice skating rink in Ballard Park …”
Fundraising had a strong start, Spivak told the Nov. 4 selectmen’s meeting.
“We’re above the $20,000 mark as of today, from a combination of donations and sponsorships,” he said.
Vendor booths offering food and merchandise would be limited to Ridgefield businesses, based on previous discussion with the selectman.
“Our vendor team is working on identifying the specific vendors who’ll participate in the event, in terms of the vendor booths,” Spivak said.
“We’re going to be talking to local restaurants about what they can provide outside ... whether it’s specific food items — hot pretzels, hot mulled wine.’
Spivak also said organizers would “expand the outreach to other Ridgefield-only merchants to potentially have a booth in Ballard Park.”
There have been adjustments.
“The original plan was to have these vendor booths at both Lounsbury House and Ballard Park,” Spivak said.
But the Gov. Ned Lamont’s decision last week to change the state’s re-opening effort from Phase 3 back to a modified Phase 2 had made the Lounsbury House board uneasy.
“We’re going to shift that focus more toward Ballard Park,” Spivak said.
The vendor booths worried the Downtown Ridgefield people — a number of them attended the selectmen’s meeting.
Jones recalled a Downtown Ridgefield board meeting in June that concluded the traditional Holiday Stroll plans weren’t appropriate for the pandemic.
“A stroll, such as it is right now, is not a COVID friendly,” she said. “... We decided we’re going to do a deconstructed Holiday Stroll ... spread out over four weeks, events that do not require as much touching.”
That’s an outline of the Holiday Village.
Town and village
Downtown Ridgefield met with the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Commission, Jones said.
The Chamber of Commerce and ECDC represent all Ridgefield businesses. Downtown Ridgefield represents businesses in the village — the Main Street area.
Vendors being invited to set up booths in the park and at Lounsbury House seemed like competition enjoying the benefits of a village location at lower rent.
“Downtown Ridgefield — these folks pay Main Street rents 12 months a year,” said Jones.
“We thought all businesses were going to be supported where they live,” she told the selectmen. “About 10 days ago, they were still talking about bringing vendor booths. We thought that was done ...
“We wholeheartedly agree all businesses in Ridgefield need help and should have help,” Jones said.
“Whoever needs support, let’s help them where they are.”
There were questions.
Selectman Sean Connelly wondered if work-from-home entrepreneurs could participate.
“The way we think about a ‘Ridgefield business’ — would it also be if somebody had their crafts, maybe they’re selling on ETSY, maybe not a business but a Ridgefield resident?” he asked.
“It’s something the vendor committee is making judgment calls on,” said ECDC chairman Geoffrey Morris. “There needs to be a genuine connection to Ridgefield. The person need to live here or do business here.”
Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark wondered about the temporary ice skating rink in Ballard Park. The selectmen had previously suggested discussing this with Winter Garden, the ice rink on Prospect Ridge.
“You were going to reach out to the current ice skating rink,” she said.
“Yes, I talked to Winter Garden,” said Morris. “They don’t like the idea of skating rink in Ballard Park. They have about two or three hours of public skating a week …
“We’d work out a plan where we’re not conflicting,” he said.
Morris said ice skating in the park might be used to promote Winter Garden.
“I agree with you it should help them,” said Kozlark. “... The feeling they’re not 100 percent behind it — I, for one, would want to make sure they’re on board and enthusiastically embracing it, before we went ahead and did it.”
“I don’t know if they’re going to be enthusiastically behind it,” Morris said. “I think we can work out a plan they’d be happy with, and would benefit them.
“If we think this is going to be detrimental to Winter Garden we’re definitely not going to do it.”
Connelly wondered about the logistics.
“You don’t just snap your fingers and create an ice skating rink,” he said.
“The skating rink company is based in Massachussetts,” Spivak said. “And it’s an artifcial skating rink — it’s not ice, it’s a plastic ...
“It’s indistinguishable from ice,” Spivak said.
All doubts may not have been settled, but Kozlark was impressed.
“You guys are working so hard on this, and it sounds like it’s going to be a wonderful event,” she said. “We just want to make sure we are helping the businesses.”
“That’s why we’re doing it,” said Morris.