Ridgefield businesses are hurting, but help is coming

Main Street welcomes shoppers this holiday season, with social distancing practiced at businesses. In a tough year, many business could use help.

Main Street welcomes shoppers this holiday season, with social distancing practiced at businesses. In a tough year, many business could use help.

Macklin Reid / Hearst Connecticut Media

“A lot of our businesses are really suffering,” said Bob Knight.

“... We’re at a state of potentially losing a lot of businesses in our community,” Knight added while addressing fellow members of Ridgefield’s Economic and Community Development Commission (ECDC) Monday night, Dec. 7.

But as Ridgefield’s business community tries to make its way through a holiday season with shopping and spending diminished by COVID-19, Knight also had a message for townspeople.

“Instead of buying online, buy it in town,” he said. “That pertains to services, that pertains to retail, that’s restaurants.”

He told the ECDC that reports from some segments of the business community were dire.

“A lot of our shops and businesses, they feel voiceless, like no one’s got their back,” he said.

While sounding an alarm, Knight told Hearst Connecticut Media that the business situation varies.

“It’s not all gloom and doom,” he said.

“What’s inspiring is that businesses of all shapes and sizes are being nimble and adapting,” Knight said.

“And that’s how they’re going to get through the crisis,” he said. “We think 2021 is going to be a better year, once the vaccines are in the marketplace.

“It’s just a matter of treading water and slow incremental growth until we can get to that point in 2021.

“And I think the overarching message is: If you can buy it online, you can probably buy it in town,” he said.

“Go to local businesses this holiday seasons,” he said.

“Try to make an effort to go to one new or one local business — an old standby, or try a new business in town. It’ll be quite meaningful,” he said.

Help for hard hit

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit some businesses harder than other.

“Fitness, food service and retail — they’re really feeling the pinch right now, and we want to help them,” Knight said.

Knight is the ECDC’s liaison to the Ridgefield Office of Emergency Management, and also serves as Ridgefield’s representative to the Region 5 Long Term Recovery Committee for Business and Jobs.

Among his roles is shepherding along assistance that started at the federal level and flows down through state and regional agencies and helping direct it to people and businesses that need it.

“The funds and services will flow through the state Department of Emergency Management to various local offices of emergency management,” he said.

“In theory it would flow to meet unmet needs in our community, whatever those unmet needs are. And that’s what we’re in the process of gathering for the state.”

People, businesses, non-profit entities with situations they’d like to discuss may contact Knight at his town email address: ecdc.knight@gmail.com

“Reach out to me directly.” he said.

“The message is we’re going to try and help. The best solutions are going to come out of the local community.

“And we’re going to move faster if we do everything locally,” he said.

“The biggest challenge is financial resources are hard to come by right now for businesses,” Knight said. “The state a couple of weeks ago announced $5,000 grants for local businesses, and they were eaten up essentially in minutes.”

Tenants, landlords

At Monday night’s ECDC meeting Knight shared with commissioners some of the problems becoming evident in town.

“We’re hearing a swell form the business community, from tenants, saying they’re having a hard time working with their landlords. They’ve taken a hit revenue-wise, and they’ve asked for rent concessions,” he said.

“... I believe that’s what happened to Fit Club,” he said of the recently closed work-out studio off Grove Street.

But playing hardball can backfire for landlords.

“Now the building is for sale.” Knight said.

Sometimes the problems go further.

“Property owners are prohibited by lending institutions to renegotiate a lease midstream,” Knight said. “In the era of COVID a lot of tenants were asking to renegotiate leases.”

Knight reported that there has also been some low-profile cooperation as people of good will try work together to get through the difficult times.

“We’ve gotten word privately some landlords have worked with tenants, and they don’t want that publicized,” he said.

While landlords want to keep arrangements quiet — perhaps to avoid having agreements with some tenants triggering requests from others — the business people with front doors on the street are also not eager to publicize specific situations.

“The tenants don’t want their names out there because they don’t want the public thinking they’re teetering on the edge,” Knight said.

The local business problems have been taken to regional and also state emergency management officials. The pandemic has spawned the economic equivalent of a hurricane or tornado, destroying things people spent their lives building.

Assistance is vital, and officials have started the slow wheels of government turning.

“We already escalated to Region 5,” Knight said.

“Region 5 has decided to kick that up to the governor’s office, to see if maybe there would be an executive order.”

The state will be the conduit for any money that comes from federal acts passed by Congress to help in the pandemic-related economic emergency.

“That’s my charge: to try and get some relief from the state,” Knight said.

“There’s not a lot of money at the state,” he added.

“Our business owners in town, the owners that are hurting, are putting on a brave face,” he said.

“It’s our responsibility as economic development commission to be a voice for voiceless, and advocate for them.”