Local retailers grapple with very different holiday season

Published on Thursday, 3 December 2020 17:12
Written by Erica Drzewiecki


The classic holiday scene of shoppers pushing by each other to get their hands on the latest and greatest gifts now lies with the ghosts of Christmases past.

Gift shops and retail stores around the Greater Bristol and New Britain region must limit the amount of customers they serve, restrict contact amongst visitors and keep everything spotless during the first-ever covid-19-tainted holiday season. That’s at least those shops that haven’t shuttered their doors already in financial crisis; not to mention the fact that shoppers themselves generally have less spending money these days and are being urged to stay home anyway.

Despite all this negativity, owners of local mom-and-pop shops are trying on optimism for size this December, since the one certainty they can count on is that the calendar will reach Dec. 25 without fail.

“It is tough, but we’ve been here for 38 years,” Sue Min, owner of Fantastic Fashions in New Brite Plaza told the Herald Thursday morning.

Her store specializes in personalized name plates and jewelry, with party supplies like balloons and gift wrapping too.

“People are still coming in and out,” Min said. “It’s a family business. God Bless. They love us.”

The Phase 2.1 rules released in November cut back the capacity of retail stores to 50%, with thorough cleaning protocol, distancing markers and partitions in place.

Wearing a mask is standard practice at this point, at least in Connecticut.

A double- security door at Fantastic Fashions keeps out undesirables and the floor space is large enough that Min hasn’t noticed any issues with state-mandated capacity limits.

Across downtown New Britain, Maciah Clark’s clothing boutique Un-known has glass partitions separating the cash register from the floor. Clark has been promoting seasonal deals constantly on social media.

“With covid, the in-store experience has slowed down,” he pointed out. “We’re really pushing our website.”

People can purchase items online and then pickup curbside at 18 Main St. Clark also facilitates local deliveries.

“Right now we’re doing 24 days of straight deals. Find us on Facebook and Instagram at Un-knownClothingCT,” he added. “That’s the best way for people to catch the deals between now and Christmas Day.”

Store capacity is limited to four people due to current restrictions and masks are available at the entrance.

One retailer that admits to suffering less than others this season is Bob’s Sports Chalet at 91 Pine St. in Bristol.

“Our store is running pretty normal,” manager Bill Gonsalves told the Press Thursday. “But we have noticed a little difference. As a ski and snowboard shop we’re usually mobbed this time of year. Business is still very, very good but we can see the shift from brick-and-mortar shopping to more online.”

Boot-fitting stations are spaced six or more feet apart and capacity has not been a problem at this chalet-style facility.

CT Bike at 80 South St. in Bristol has scooters and skateboards aplenty, along with accessories and other gifts.

“If we’ve noticed anything, scooters have been a big item this year,” said Jim Parrott, who owns CT Bike with wife Marie.

Their store was closed last spring and reopened over the summer. The skate park upstairs is available for private rentals and lessons are still being offered as well.

“We spent quite a lot of money to get our floor filled up with scooters - all the brand names people should want for Christmas,” Parrott said. “We also have a wide variety of skateboards. We’re certainly happy to help anyone with their Christmas shopping.”

Amato’s Toy & Hobby Shop in New Britain is 10,000 sq. ft. with an 18-ft.-high ceiling, so ventilation and capacity limits have not been an issue here, either.

“Sales are good,” owner Steve Amato told the Herald. “We like to assure people it’s perfectly safe, although we are still doing curbside for those who don’t want to come in. All my employees are wearing masks. We’re trying to make it as safe as possible for everybody.”

This is Amato’s 80th Christmas season in business. In celebration, 80 different toys in the store have been discounted up to 80 percent off.

“The three most popular items right now are jigsaw puzzles, craft kits, and board games,” Amato said. “We have all the classics.”

Another popular gift store, Artisan’s Marketplace in Plainville has implemented all the state-mandated rules and is welcoming customers this holiday season.

“Our customers are thrilled we’re open,” said Cynthia Logan, who owns the shop with her mother, Martha Couture. “It’s been a challenge,” Logan added. “People are very appreciative of the effort we’re making to meet those guidelines and they’re excited to be out and shopping.”

The mother-daughter pair works with artisans around the U.S. to bring in handmade crafts, jewelry and art.

“As a business we’re challenged by some of the shipping issues and many of our artists have stopped working because of covid,” Logan said. “It’s a little sad but I’m trying to stay positive.”

Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at edrzewiecki@centralctcommunications.com.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Thursday, 3 December 2020 17:12. Updated: Thursday, 3 December 2020 17:15.