Ridgefield nonprofit's new event planner to bring back Sidewalk Sales and other downtown activities

Mike Liberta

Mike Liberta

Mike Liberta

RIDGEFIELD — The streets were packed, business owners had their doors open, and there was live music and food — That's what downtown Ridgefield looked like during Sidewalk Sales in years past. There hasn't been a Sidewalk Sales in recent years — and town resident Mike Liberta is determined to bring it back.

That's just one of his goals in his new position as event coordinator for the town. The paid, part-time, year-round position involves planning and organizing four annual events in town — Fall in Love with Ridgefield in October, the Holiday Stroll in December, the Spring Stroll in May and a Summer Festival in July — which will be combined with Sidewalk Sales.

The position reports to Downtown Ridgefield and works in conjunction with the Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce and the Ridgefield Economic & Community Development Commission. 

Previously, the four events were put on by members of Downtown Ridgefield, which is an organization of local businesses and nonprofits that help enhance and beautify Downtown Ridgefield. Downtown Ridgefield has 55 merchants as members.

Downtown Ridgefield members previously volunteered their time to run the four events. Liberta said, however, that it was becoming harder and harder to find members who were able to volunteer. 

"They didn't have the time so they established a new position as event coordinator," said Liberta, 82, of Ridgefield, who was one of the original officers of Downtown Ridgefield, which was incorporated in 2003. "It's my job to go out and find out what the association wants to do. Then I go hire what needs to get done for it — and coordinate the whole affair."

The Holiday Stroll, which is a $30,000 project, involves getting a horse and carriage, a magician, ice carvings, carolers from New York City, and a disc jockey, he said.

Liberta said Sidewalk Sales stopped running because not enough merchants were participating. He's hoping to reinstate it this July. He added he hopes to attract more people to the event than ever by combining it with a street fair in Ballard Park and Main Street at the same time — and calling it a Summer Festival. He's looking to see if the park is available and also looking for vendors.

'Promote your business'

Liberta said one of biggest challenges when planning the Sidewalk Sales event and in helping businesses in general is getting merchants to promote their businesses. He said stores don't market themselves anymore.

"I'm trying to convince them that you got to have a sale sign or you got to do some promotion, to make people want to come into your store. People tend to stay in their own shop, waiting for somebody to walk in. When we have these events, they need to open their doors," said Liberta, who owned Liberta's Spirit Shoppe on 393 Main St., for 32 years. He closed the shop in 2012. It's in the location of Zoe & Co Sugarbeads and J.McLaughlin.

"We keep saying shop local but the merchants have to promote that they're local and I'm here to help you," added Liberta, a father of three and grandfather of seven with his wife Teri Liberta. He moved to Ridgefield in 1980 from Illinois. Aside from his new position, Liberta, a Vietnam Veteran, is involved in several nonprofit organizations in town including the Ridgefield Lions Club and the American Legion.  

"A lot of people walk across your storefront when you're closed. If you put something in your window and advertise something, people are gonna see it. You don't have to pay any money," he said. "You're paying the rent to be where you're at but you've got to encourage people to come in. And then when they come in, you got to sell. "

He said just like the name of the event he'll be planning, he has fallen in love with Ridgefield.

"When you drive into town, Main Street is New England, with the older buildings," Liberta said. "People are very friendly. We have a lot of volunteers in this town that helped people and it's just that kind of a camaraderie. You meet people all the time, everywhere you go.  It just makes you feel good."