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Monday, August 21 News

Local businesses still thrive in summer months

DARIEN — As August begins, the lazy days of summer have become a way of life across Connecticut. Students are enjoying their time off, town committees and boards are meeting less frequently and businesses are cutting back their hours.

Still, Gold Coast businesses are thriving, despite the generally slower pace life takes on in the summer months.

“There’s a lot of tourism- related business in Connecticut, particularly along the shore,” said Peter Gioia, an economist and the Connecticut Business & Industry Association vice president. “They seem to be doing well based on what I’m hearing. Retail is slow a little bit until now when it’s back-to-school. Despite the fact that there’s people on vacation, August is a pretty good month for retail.”

Small business owners in Darien agree. While some have seen a natural slowness that comes with the season, many said the summer months have not made a significant impact on their business.

Elaine Kirby McCleary, owner of Kirby and Company, a local design boutique, was actually busier than usual in June and July. She partially credits the uptick in sales to the Post Road business’ national online store and 10,000 social media followers, particularly on Instagram. However, she also said she’s seen a lot of people stopping in while house hunting in the area or taking a break from the traffic on Interstate 95.

“We have seen a real surge in meeting new customers and faces that have come in on Saturdays and Sundays,” she said. “They’re taking a look at Darien as a place to move to.

“People are also coming in off the highway due to traffic and people stumble upon the stores and stay in Darien for the afternoon,” she said. “Traffic has benefited Darien. I think people come and dine and shop and kill an hour instead of sitting in traffic.”

Some travelers are even braving the traffic to get to Darien for the shopping.

Erica Jensen, owner of the downtown women’s boutique Helen Ainson, said in the 40 years the shop has been open, they’ve established themselves as a destination store for specialty items like evening wear, cocktail attire and mother-of-the-bride and mother-of-the-groom dresses. Jensen said the store boasts a mailing list of 27,000 people who come from all over the state, as well as New York.

“We’re known for having the best selection of evening gowns in the whole state,” Jensen said.

That doesn’t mean Jensen doesn’t have tactics to keep business booming, even as people are more tempted to head to the beach than a boutique. She said she often relies on loyal customers who start shopping for the fall and winter items Jensen begins offering during the summer.

“The summer is always slower than it is in spring and fall,” she said. “After the sidewalk sale until the middle of August is always slow, and so is January and February. It’s something we predict and we’re well aware of it after 40 years. We have a number of customers that are fashionistas and they know we get winter merchandise in in June, July and August. Even though traffic is reduced, we still do great business.”

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Jensen said her boutique also benefits from the Chamber of Commerce’s annual Sidewalk Sale, where local businesses bring their goods out to the streets of Darien for a weekend. The sales are a draw for hundreds of local shoppers and one of a few ways the Chamber of Commerce promotes summertime shopping in Darien.

According to Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Susan Cator, the chamber also supports a free band night at the Grove Street Plaza to support downtown Darien.

Of course, some stores have taken measures to cut back during the summer. Kirby and Company is closed on Sundays during the summers, except to the occasional private buyer. Spree, another clothing store on Post Road, had a sign in its window saying it would be closed the first week of August.

But many store owners feel they’re doing well.

“People go away for the summer, but just because you’re going to the beach doesn’t mean you don’t have down time,” said Bill Jensen, owner of the Darien Toy Box.

“You want puzzles, board games. ... You can’t really quantify (a dip in summer sales) because it all balances out.”

EKayata@hearstmediact.

com; @erin_kayata

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