Eat, drink and spend local: 'Shop and Stroll' boosts business in town

Shoppers lined up to pay at the Brick Walk's Vintage Garden during "Shop and Stroll" in Fairfield Dec. 11. (Photo- Miriam Kelliher)

Shoppers lined up to pay at the Brick Walk’s Vintage Garden during “Shop and Stroll” in Fairfield Dec. 11. (Photo- Miriam Kelliher)

It may not be a major economic indicator, but the “Shop and Stroll” event organized by town officials and the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce gave a strong bounce to local business, with people out buying and dining Thursday night, Dec. 11.

“We have every sales person on the floor and we cannot keep up with the demand. It’s amazing,” Kathy Fish, manager of Island Outfitters, said while the evening was in full swing. The clothing store, in the Brick Walk on Post Road, was one of more than 40 merchants and restaurants who participated.

“Mark Barnhart gets an A-plus,” Fish added, referring to Fairfield’s Director of Community and Economic Development, who, after seeing similar events in other towns, said he worked with the Chamber to get an evening of holiday shopping and entertainment off the ground in Fairfield.

Island Outfitters — what one male shopper called a “preppy person’s smorgasbord” of retail — had followed the Chamber’s advice by offering an actual smorgasbord of cheese, crackers, popcorn and Prosecco, which customers readily tossed back as they browsed through the boutique’s assortment of brightly colored, high-end men’s and women’s clothing. Like other Post-Road shops, Island Outfitters ran special sales for the night and stayed open later than usual, until 9.

Talking while helping customers and drafting extra clerks into gift-wrapping duty, Fish was hard-pressed to name a single hottest item of the evening. She said Patagonia merchandise and “everything for gifts,” — especially men’s shirts — were moving fast.

The Brick Walk’s Dash ‘N Drizzle and Vintage Garden were

Bill Covitz, of Ice Matters, sculpted an ice reindeer on Sherman Green during the "Shop and Stroll" event. (Photo-Miriam Kelliher)

Bill Covitz, of Ice Matters, sculpted an ice reindeer on Sherman Green during the “Shop and Stroll” event. (Photo-Miriam Kelliher)

also filled with shoppers. Fairfielder Ashley Murdoch and her mother Mel Pavelka, one of many mother-daughter pairs out for the evening, looked for a hostess gift from among the Christmas ornaments on display at Vintage Garden, having already bought a gift for Murdoch’s boss at Dash ‘N Drizzle.
Murdoch said she had seen “something on Facebook” about the event, and thought it presented a good opportunity to shop local. “I love all the stores in town,” she said, maneuvering around the customers lined up at the register to pay.

[See sidebar on Southport’s “Christmas Walk,” which also took place Dec. 11.]

Heading west down Post Road from the Brick Walk, strollers could see an elbow-to-elbow throng through the plate-glass windows fronting popular restaurant Molto. Barnhart said the restaurant where he dined in town that night “was quiet,” but   Angel Sanchez, manager of the Old Post Tavern, said Shop and Stroll “absolutely” increased the night’s business, noting, “it probably helped that we offered specials.”

Sanchez said he could tell the increase in business was from shoppers taking

advantage of stores’ extended hours, because “we had a lot of people come in with bags.” Sanchez added, “We should do it two or three times a year.”

There was a dark and lonely block or two along the Post Road between Molto and the public library, but floodlights trained on professional ice sculptor Bill Covitz lit up Sherman Green, where for an hour and a half, he demonstrated his technique for passersby as he fashioned a reindeer from a block of ice.

Covitz, whose artistry for the evening was sponsored by local businesses, said parties and special events like this one made December his busiest time of year. Earlier in the week, he said, he had spent 17 hours straight working in his 18-degree freezer studio in Cheshire.

“It’s wonderful,” he said of the winter season. Covitz said in his line of work, “almost every event is special,” but later in the year, he’ll travel to Scandinavia for his favorite gig — making functional ice instruments for the annual Ice Music Festival.

There were no ice instrumentalists in evidence downtown on Dec. 11, but carolers from Fairfield Warde and Ludlowe high schools performed in and around the Fairfield University Bookstore, and one shopper there said she had seen flutists hurrying past.

“We’re blessed to have a lot of talent in our high schools,” Barnhart said, noting that the Fairfield Ludlowe Brass Ensemble also performed at the bookstore, which, while not packed with shoppers, saw browsers and buyers like Cady Kryspin and her teenaged daughter Sarah looking for holiday presents.

“It sounded fun,” Kryspin said of the night, which she had seen advertised in local media. “Like a good way to support the local merchants and have fun with my daughter.” Kryspin, holding a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book she was buying as a gift, said she and her daughter would probably buy other books as well. After that, they planned to “hit the clothing stores” in search of holiday wear for parties. Born and raised in Faifield, Kryspin said, “I love to support the local merchants.”

A capella singers from Fairfield Ludlowe High School sang carols outside the Fairfield University Bookstore during "Shop and Stroll" Dec. 11.

A capella singers from Fairfield Ludlowe High School sang carols outside the Fairfield University Bookstore during “Shop and Stroll” Dec. 11.

Nearby boutique Capri was also buzzing with shoppers looking through clothing racks and partaking of complimentary wine and hors d’oevres. Capri manager Sharon Risley said she saw the event as “part strolling, part shopping and a lot of socializing and shopping local, which is wonderful.”

Repeat customers in the store agreed with Risley that the evening’s relatively mild weather, with temperatures in the mid-thirties and no biting winter wind, made the event more successful and enjoyable than last year, when the temperature, Risley said, “was very cold.”

Risley and Chamber of Commerce executive director Beverly Balaz also attributed the increased turnout to the event’s second year.  “It’s getting more legs this year,” Balaz said, as the night is “getting more well known.”

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