Wilton’s holiday shopping season kicked off Friday, Nov. 27 shortly after the Thanksgiving meal was a faded memory, but shoppers didn’t bring their turkey-and-stuffing fueled selves into Wilton shops this weekend, either for Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28. Despite an uptick in messaging about ‘shopping local,’ most stores in town didn’t see as much traffic as owners would have liked. Some retailers GMW.com spoke with were reticent to be identified in order to keep their slow sales private.
“Maybe it was the weather,” one Wilton Center retailer said Sunday afternoon. “This weekend was warm–all of fall has been really warm–and it just seems that people are staying outdoors instead of coming in to shop.” She added, “No one is even thinking about buying sweaters.”
This seems to be something other store owners noticed as well.
“This weekend was definitely slower than in years past. You hope the first weekend sets the trend for the four weeks, but it just means we have to do more work to let customers know what sales and items we have. You wish people would remember what a difference spending their money locally means,” said a South Wilton store owner, who added that it’s already hard enough for businesses that aren’t in Wilton Center.
That’s one point the Wilton Chamber of Commerce tried to drive home in their push to channel local shoppers to stay local when spending their dollars. Promoting Small Business Saturday in emails and social media, they tried to remind residents that by spending money in Wilton, Wilton would benefit.
Shopping Wilton Stimulates Our Economy: In this economic climate, the best return on investment is in local business. It is estimated that for every dollar you spend, twice as much will be reinvested in the community by a local store. Significantly more money recirculates in Wilton when purchases are made at locally-owned businesses. More money is kept in the community because locally-owned businesses purchase from other local businesses, service providers and farms. Purchasing locally helps grow other businesses as well as the Wilton tax base.
Shopping Wilton Supports Our Community: Wilton businesses invest in our community, donate to our non-profits, and help grow the economic base of our town. The dollars spent right here in Wilton create a domino effect that eventually finds its way back to you. Wilton businesses are owned by people who live in Wilton, who are less likely to leave, and who are more invested in our future. Communities like Wilton can survive difficult downturns in the economy with a thriving local business center. Shopping Wilton keeps your neighborhoods safe, vibrant, and stabilizes home values — and it takes you to start the trend.
The Wilton Chamber wasn’t the only effort to drive holiday dollars local. Some local merchants have been using a Facebook page called Shop Wilton CT as a way to promote local brick and mortar businesses, like The Well, Nod Hill Soaps, and the Painted Cookie, or even the Schoolhouse Restaurant for cooking classes, as well as small businesses that operate online or by word of mouth, like Southern Yankee, Sis Boom and even the St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church shop.
The drop in Black Friday and Small Business Saturday sales for brick and mortar stores reflected the nationwide trend, apparently, with Time Magazine reporting on Sunday that sales for brick-and-mortar stores fell by $1 billion from 2014. They attributed that to an uptick in online sales, which they say took a significant jump: “… online sales jumped 14 percent on Black Friday from 2014, bringing in $2.72 billion altogether. The increase came during a week of online sales and promotions leading up to Cyber Monday on Nov. 30, forecasted to be the biggest e-commerce sales day of the year.”
Not everyone had a tough time. Blue Star Bazaar owner Megan Abrahamsen had generally positive news.
“Technically, the post-Thanksgiving weekend (Friday through Sunday) was up for me this year versus last year. However, the percent increase was much smaller than the sales increase I’ve generally seen over the last two and a half months in my new location. In the news, there is a lot of hype about Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. For me, however, the weekend is generally not my busiest time of the week. Wilton residents love coming to my shop when they have an hour free between local activities. When people have a whole day to spend shopping, I don’t think Wilton is really viewed as a shopping destination.”
She’s also working hard to make sure that her store stays top of mind, with shopping events that she says, “will make it easy and fun to shop local this holiday season. The benefits of shopping small at a shop like Blue Star Bazaar are that the service is more personal and convenient. Plus, shopping local supports local owners, employees, and non-profits.”
Among the events Abrahamsen has scheduled are a Ladies’ Night Out, on Thursday, Dec. 3 from 7-9 p.m. offering a night for Wilton women to socialize, shop, and enjoy wine and refreshments. Abrahamsen says it’s also an opportunity for women to fill out a wish-list card for any gifts they’d like to receive during the holidays. Plus she scheduled a Guys’ Shopping Night on Wednesday, Dec. 16 from 6-9 p.m., when men are invited to stop by Blue Star Bazaar to shop for the women and kids in their life. Craft beer and appetizers will be served and complimentary wrapping will be provided. Men can also refer to customer wish lists for help in finding the perfect gift.
Abrahamsen is also incorporating some “social giveback” to benefit the community. She created “Wrap-for-a-Cause” on Saturday, Dec. 19 (10 a.m.-6 p.m.) and Sunday, Dec. 20 (11 a.m.-5 p.m.). She has invited in local teens to wrap gifts (that do NOT need to be purchased at Blue Star Bazaar) for a $3 donation from shoppers per each wrapped gift and proceeds will benefit local non-profits of the teens’ choosing.
She also shares a thought that could offer all Wilton businesses hope: “The gift purchases are just getting started though. The shopping up to now has been mostly people finding things to wear during the holidays — for themselves and their children.”