As Connecticut began Phase 1 of its re-opening plan, Wilton businesses and restaurants slowly started testing the waters of opening their doors and outside patios to customers. On Wednesday, May 20, the first day of Phase 1, a handful of Wilton stores and restaurants declared themselves ‘Open for Business.’
“We were ready to open,” said Local Soul owner Beth Montford. Some customers were ready for Local Soul to be open too. When GOOD Morning Wilton stopped by at 11 a.m., Montford had already helped her first customers.
She said that as a gift store, the business shutdown during key sales events like Mother’s Day and Easter hurt.
Being closed has forced Montford and her partner, Peter Finnie, to be flexible and creative about how to keep business going. Now that they’ve re-opened, they plan on doing whatever it takes to meet the needs of as many customers as possible–whether those shoppers are comfortable coming into the store, or not.
“Our goal was to create a place where it was safe, someplace you could walk in and feel safe, but if you’re not ready to yet, we’re still doing curbside service or virtual shopping. I’ve had people come into the store that say, ‘I’m so excited you’re open.’ And then I had other folks who have underlying conditions asking if they could still shop virtually, which of course we’ll do that. We’re going to do limited hours in the beginning, and probably be open until four-ish, but that’s always flexible. They can always reach out to us via our Instagram account or through the store phone,” she said.
She’s heard both opinions from customers: “Some people are afraid, some people are like, ‘It’s time to open.’ From all age groups, different opinions and I respect everyone’s opinion. We’re trying to meet everyone’s needs and expectations,” Montford added.
Preparing to open took a bit of reorganization and elbow grease. They rearranged the store layout to create more space, taped markings on the floor to illustrate social distancing, built a clear barrier at checkout, put out sanitizer, and significantly increased their cleaning protocols. They also went through an online self-certification process with the state of Connecticut.
Montford and Finnie also understood their role in the economic food chain and took that seriously as part of their decision to reopen.
“Our big thing is being an artistan’s platform where we can showcase a lot of local talent. So it was important to me to be able to open up so that our artists have a venue to sell and receive a check and really get excited about everything,” Montford says.
It’s also about helping the town’s residents return to normal. “Graduation’s coming and we’re doing this ‘adopt a senior’. That’s been fantastic. Folks are coming in looking for gifts under $20. So I think the town seems excited,” she added.
But Montford does anticipate different customer behavior all around, especially with families at home with kids doing e-learning and many people refraining from their usual activities.
“It’s not like people just stop by after a class at JoyRide to pick something up on the way home anymore,” she said.
Jennifer Fila, the owner of Town Center Toys, is taking a similarly flexible approach to opening up. She’s ready to roll with whatever her customers want.
“I’m pretty optimistic. I’m not really sure if people are going to be choosing to still come in and shop. There’ll probably be a percentage of customers that would normally come in. I just wanted to be available to people who do want to have the experience in the store but understand if people aren’t ready yet to come out and shop,” she said.
Fila is geared to welcome walk-ins as well as make appointments before- and after-hours for customers who want to be alone in the store without other shoppers.
Other business owners are taking it more slowly, including Open House, which is targeting next Tuesday, May 26 to open, taking a bit more time to get the store ready.
Several Wilton Center eateries were eager to get back to business as of Wednesday, taking advantage of the governor’s order to relax local zoning ordinances and set up dining space outside. Bianco Rosso took the previously-unthought-of step of setting up multiple tables right in the parking lot spaces just outside the restaurant’s front door.
Marly’s Bistro set up tents over the tables in its courtyard and also put out a few tables on the sidewalk behind the restaurant, with plans to add some lattice dividers and ivy to enhance the appearance. Manager Louis Macol says the town’s residents have been incredibly supportive throughout the shutdown, and they are eager to get back to business for their customers. “We so appreciate the community being there for us.”
Faithful customers did turn out in support, with tables full at Marly’s as well as at neighboring Cactus Rose for the dinner service. Not many restaurants were able to gear up for lunch service on Wednesday, however, as there was a bit of miscommunication between the restaurants and town officials about application paperwork that was required to be completed before anyone could open for business.
Like some retailers, a handful of restaurants held off on opening up for outside table service on the first possible day. While Orem’s Diner did have a tent erected in the parking lot outside as of Wednesday midday, owner Demetri Papanikolaou won’t begin offering sit-down dining there until sometime later this weekend–and even then, he’s not ready to commit to a specific day.
But residents eager to get out of confinement were ready to commit to eating al fresco at their favorite restaurants. Toni and Ed Winslow came to support their choice for number one dining spot Bianco Rosso, and were happy to overlook the car engine starting up 20 feet away.
“I don’t feel like I’m sitting outside in the parking lot. No, I feel like I’m on the veranda overlooking the Mediterranean,” Ed said. He and Toni have lived in Wilton for 25 years and for them this was a first.
It was also a first for Bianco’s owner, Mario Lopez. “I always wanted to have an outside dining room and I had to wait for this pandemic to have one!”