Editorial: Shopping locallly in CT has never been more vital than in 2020

Shoppers at the Connecticut Post Mall in Milford on Black Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.

Even Santa faces challenges this year reminding the elves to wear masks and maintain social distancing on the North Pole assembly lines.

But that’s nothing compared with the issues faced along Main Street USA.

If shopping by mail didn’t exist, it would surely have been invented in 2020. The upside is the virtual marketplace will enable the most vulnerable members of the population to shop for the holidays without putting themselves at risk of exposure to coronavirus.

But surviving this pandemic also means ensuring a future for merchants that are the soul of downtowns. Just about everyone has a favorite independent store, and these shops never needed support more than now. Too many were shuttered during the last nine months.

Picture your local shopping centers and imagine how you might follow a traditional December path, exploring shelves of book shops for an unexpected treasure, checking the toy store for stocking-stuffers and making the annual pilgrimage to the shop that has singular offerings hand-crafted by area artisans.

No one deserves blame for shielding themselves and loved ones by dodging this shopping season, but there are consequences if residents don’t collectively serve as a bridge to lift retailers across this financial chasm.

Without support, a Dickens-like peek to the future would undoubtedly feature residents window shopping only to discover empty display cases and “For rent” signs on the other side of the glass.

That future can be prevented, but it’s going to take a little work, discipline and creativity on both sides of the looking glass.

Many retailers are clearly game for the challenge. Some are playfully wrapping masks on mannequins. Others are leveraging lessons learned through the lean spring months. Curbside pickup has become a popular way to support local vendors while remaining safe. Others are pitching gift certificates that hold the added advantage of drawing recipients to consider offerings after the bustling holiday season — and eventually the crisis — has passed.

For some merchants, Gov. Ned Lamont transformed into this season’s Scrooge when he kicked off the shopping season by threatening businesses with fines of up to $10,000 if they violate regulations such as capacity limits. It’s an extreme threat, but wouldn’t be necessary if so many stores didn’t flagrantly disregard protocols.

Many merchants have seen some of their neighbors vanish and are buckling down for this daunting December. Kim Ramsey, owner of The Toy Room in downtown Bethel, was a voice of hope for the weeks ahead: “People are adapting more. I’ve heard more and more people saying, ‘I’m shopping local.’ Everything seems to be getting shared more on Facebook. People seem to be making a conscious effort at staying local this year.”

So share some shopping tips via social media and explore the offerings online. If you are venturing out, keep those masks on and pack some hand sanitizer to use upon entering and exiting stores.

Shopping locally can be your gift to the entire community.

Connecticut Media Group