Ridgefield shops see ‘180 degree change’ in business this holiday season

Photo of Alyssa Seidman

RIDGEFIELD — When asked how this year’s holiday shopping season compares to 2020 thus far, resident Dan O’Brien said, “It’s a 180 degree change.”

As chairman of the Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce, O’Brien has spoken with local business owners in recent weeks to get a sense of how business has been.

“A few merchants have told me that they’re off to a fairly good start with shoppers this year,” he said, attributing the increased foot traffic to high vaccination rates and the town’s cultural district designation. “Last year was a very slow season for the merchants across the board … (but) today people are out and about.”

In 2020, the chamber attempted to plan a holiday shopping village with the Economic and Community Development Commission and Downtown Ridgefield, but the event was as COVID-19 continually worsened, O’Brien said.

An upside of the pandemic, he noted, is that it has forced business owners to reexamine “everything they’re doing,” from managing expenses to customer service. The chamber kept its offices open through the worst of the pandemic to assist members that were struggling to stay open.

“The biggest role we played was in promoting the ... local shops, the restaurants as well as our nonprofits,” said Suzanne Brennan, the chamber’s vice chairwoman. “We were helping our businesses navigate (government assistance) programs and doing all we could to lend support through the restrictions.”

Although membership dues “dried up” in the beginning of the pandemic, the chamber continued to provide business referrals, restaurant recommendations and information on general topics to the public, O’Brien said.

“People call and visit because they know there’s a human they can speak to or meet with,” he added. “There’s no other place you can go to, at least in Ridgefield, where you can get that live person.”

To gear up for the holidays, the chamber distributed a list of “16 Reasons to Shop Local Instead of Online,” which a number of merchants have already passed on to their customers, O’Brien said. Its popular gift certificate program continues to offer a “one size fits all” approach to shopping around town, as the voucher can be redeemed at local businesses, Brennan said.

“Every time you spend money locally you cast a vote for the type of community you want,” she added. “Ridgefield has one of the most beautiful main streets and shopping districts in Connecticut, but it takes work, and we have to support it regularly and consistently.”

Brennan pointed out the personalized attention and shorter lines that come with shopping downtown as opposed to at a big box store or online. She said while consumers may not find all their shopping needs in Ridgefield, “If every family spent $25 or $50 dollars locally it would make a huge difference.”

O’Brien said the chamber is looking forward to providing its newer members access to the range of services and “tangible benefits” current members already enjoy. In the past month, the organization has netted seven new members, he said.

Also on the horizon is the establishment of a restaurant association within the chamber, which would be led by local restaurateurs.

“There are over 70 establishments in Ridgefield serving food and drink to the public — (they’re) probably our biggest employer in town,” O’Brien said. “We’re in the middle of pulling the restaurants together on this, and hope to have something in the spring.”

Brennan encouraged business owners and consumers to use the chamber as a resource. “We love what we do and it shows,” she said.

For more information about the Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce, visit destinationridgefield.com/chamber.