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Wednesday, March 21 News

In their own ways, New Canaan businesses beat the summer slowdown

NEW CANAAN — On a recent Tuesday, Anna Carberry was seated at a stool, reading a July edition of the New York Times at the counter of Candy Nichols, the Main Street children’s clothing store she co-owns.

Reading the several weeks-old news, Carberry said, was an attempt in vain to stave off the boredom that can sometimes come in July and August, when many jet-setting residents are vacationing outside of the 06840.

“It’s very, very quiet, right after the Sidewalk Sale,” Carberry said, “but it picks up in the middle of August.”

According to Carberry, whose store has been open for five years, the problem seems to be getting slightly worse, perhaps accentuated by a pervasiveness of online shopping.

But the problem of empty sidewalks during the summer months seems to affect individual merchants differently, if at all.

For Doug Zumbach, owner of Zumbach’s Gourmet Coffee on Pine Street, there is a simple solutions to the population drop off.

“This is the slowest month right now, so I’m not roasting a lot of coffees because they go stale in about three-and-a-half weeks. I’m not roasting my high-end coffees,” Zumbach said.

But the impacts, it seems, are felt differently depending where downtown businesses are located and in what industry they work.

“From our office here on Elm Street, we still see things pretty busy throughout July. But I would say we are now in sort of the slower time,” said Laura Budd, marketing associate at the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce, on an overcast Monday. “I think it depends seasonally on the business — And it depends on weather.”

For several years, the Chamber of Commerce has sought to attract more people to town in the slowest months by creating the Pop-Up Park, a gathering and event space at the corner of Elm Street and South Avenue that runs this year from July 16 through Sept. 4.

“At any given time of day there are many, many tables filled with people who have purchased food or drinks from local establishments. You see them there with shopping bags. It gives that opportunity for people to spend more time here, and that’s the ultimate goal,” Budd said. “It sort of changes the flow. It’s a very pedestrian-friendly environment and people are really enjoying the space because it’s right in the center of town.”

Chris Meier, owner of Against the Grain, an Amish furniture store on Main Street, said he’s benefited in the warmer, slower months by donating his furniture to places that can display them prominently outdoors, including the Pop-Up Park.

“I get a lot of reaction from my outdoor displays,” Meier said. His furniture can also be seen outside of New Canaan Olive Oil and Joe’s Pizza. Also, because he carries outdoor furniture and there is a demand to be outside in the summer, he said he’s continued to get orders all season.

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“I’ve definitely noticed that traffic-wise it’s not as busy,” said Meier, “but I haven’t felt it that much.”

According to Peter Gioia, vice president and economist at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, certain industries, like tourism, do better in the summer, especially along the shoreline. Still, Gioia acknowledged that the summer is not a boon for other industries.

“Based on what I’m hearing, retail is slow until back to school,” Gioia said.

But, once the back-to-school rush kicks in, the slow start to August can turn to a money-maker for retailers.

“Despite the fact that there are people on vacation, August is a pretty good month for retail,’ Gioia said.

Carl Franco, co-owner of Elm Street’s Franco’s Wine Merchants, said he’s seen neighboring stores close for a week to outlast the heat, though he doesn’t change his hours because of the vacationers.

“Well you can’t stop them. But you definitely feel it. Walking up Elm Street you can see the empty spaces,” Franco said. And although there are no major holidays, like Christmas or Thanksgiving, to drive business over the summer, Franco said people remaining in town tend to entertain and imbibe in small groups regularly.

“There are one or two weeks that are the slowest, but typically people who are here are doing something. The weather is too nice not to,” Franco said.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1