The SBA’s Connecticut District held its Small Business Saturday promotional kick-off with a walking tour of West Hartford Center Tuesday morning, visiting eight local businesses.
By Ronni Newton
The Saturday after Thanksgiving – the day after Black Friday – has come to be known as “Small Business Saturday” for more than a decade, and West Hartford Center was chosen as the site of this year’s campaign kick-off with a press conference led by Small Business Association Connecticut District Director Catherine Marx at Arethusa Farm Dairy and Café followed by a walking tour of other local businesses along Farmington Avenue and LaSalle Road.
Highlighting the benefits of holiday shopping locally, Marx was joined by Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, state Sen. Derek Slap, state Reps. Jillian Gilchrest, Tammy Exum, and Kate Farrar, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Conway, and other town and business leaders – many of whom indeed did a bit of their own shopping as they stopped into the stores and chatted with owners, managers, and employees.
“We like to say that we know that small businesses are the engines of our economy, but what’s more important is that they are the fabric of our community, and it’s so very important to come out and support them during this holiday season,” Marx said.
Some of the shops feature items made locally, which are in the stores, not stuck sitting on a barge somewhere, Marx said.
Half of the state’s workforce is employed by small businesses, Bysiewicz said. The business owners are neighbors and friends, the sponsors of local sports teams, contributors to school and nonprofit fundraisers. “Shopping small is so important,” Bysiewicz said. “These businesses … are ones that we love, they’re ones that supported us during the pandemic, and there are over 350,000 small businesses across our state.”
For every dollar spent at a small business, she said, “68 cents stays right in the community where that dollar is spent.”
Blumenthal said hundreds of businesses in the state would have perished if not for the billions of dollars funneled into the state through Congress and the SBA. “I want to thank those small business owners because in the past year … the guts and grit of our small businesses has been absolutely inspiring. They have persisted during the toughest economic time in recent history,” he said.
“Now is our turn, to show them that we’re going to stay with them, stand with them, and buy a lot of big stuff from small businesses,” Blumenthal said, urging consumers to continue to shop small this holiday season. “It’s an endorsement of the entrepreneurial spirit that makes America great,” a spirit that has been on display throughout the pandemic.
Cantor said small businesses are “the backbone of our state, and make us special, and West Hartford Center is a really wonderful place.” Business owners told her just this week that shoppers regularly come from 30 to 45 minutes away for the unique gifts and experiences that can be found.
“This has really been a team effort to lift up and support our small businesses through one of the most challenging times in our history,” Cantor said. “Really truly not knowing if they were going to make it, from restaurants to small retail shops … but I will say they were the most generous and giving, courageous and resilient throughout this process,” she said, the heart and soul of the communities, collecting and distributing food to those who lost their jobs, to health care workers.
“It’s up to us now to think about them and support them,” she said.
Tony Yurgaitis, owner of Arethusa, shared a bit of his company’s history, which started when he and his partner, the late George Malkemus (both also former top executives with Manolo Blahnik in New York), purchased a farm in Litchfield County about 20 years ago in order to preserve the land, and then decided to raise cows. One thing led to another, and they purchased more cows, and started bottling their own milk, and eventually expanded the business to include not just the farm but also several dairy stores and restaurants. The West Hartford location opened in June 2020.
“It’s quite an honor to be part of the West Hartford community,” Yurgaitis said Tuesday. “This is such a wonderful town, a great feeling here … I think if you experience coming downtown you’ll be back.”
During the holiday season, Arethusa sells not just their regular dairy products, but also seasonal products like their award-winning eggnog. They started out producing 5,000 bottles of eggnog, and now produce 45,000, he said.
When he was in college, dorm walls were plastered with posters that said, “Think globally, act locally,” Lamont said. “But now we’re thinking globally and shopping locally, and I think you’re finding out why.”
Shopping at a place like Arethusa, Lamont said, “You know that eggnog wasn’t sitting on a freighter off of Long Beach … you know what you’re getting,” he said. You don’t need to worry about supply chain.
“There are also great people at these stores,” he said. “If you’re a pathetic shopper like me that’s a big help because every time I buy something online, I thought it looked pretty cool but by the time it’s under the Christmas tree and the kids open it up you thought I’d bought them a block of coal or something like that. So I need really smart people at these stores to make me look really cool by finding things that I can get right now.”
It’s not the first time the governor referred to himself as a poor shopper and sought some expert help in West Hartford. Last December, Lamont enlisted the help of Cantor, who joined him and provided advice as he did some last minute shopping for his wife and kids at several stores in West Hartford Center.
Local stores also bring towns to life, Lamont said.
After leaving Arethusa, the walking tour included visits to Toy Chest, BK&Co., Bridgewater Chocolates, Café Sofia, Hope & Stetson, Larsen Ace Hardware, and Kimberly Boutique, where officials met with owners, managers, and employees.
Bysiewicz knew exactly what she wanted at Bridgewater Chocolates, and noted that the business is part of the Connecticut Chocolate Trail. She posed for a photo with her purchase to mark off that location as she aims to complete the trail.
Blumenthal also shopped at Bridgewater, as well as several of the other shops along the tour, and Cantor also purchased numerous holiday gifts.
“I should thank you guys,” Kimberly Mattson Moster, owner of Kimberly Boutique said. “The SBA was really good to us,” she said, helping her business weather the pandemic.
Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, is “Shop Small Saturday,” and the community is urged to start a holiday tradition of shopping small and dining locally on that day.
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