Whether it’s a dress, shoes, a puzzle, book or meal, “we need the support,” said Bill Jensen, owner of the Darien Toy Box, with regard to shopping local. “A lot of the retail stores are struggling.”

The Toy Box is one of 28 town businesses participating in Darien’s Summer Sales Days, which will run through Sunday, Aug. 9.

Shoppers can take advantage of summer clearance prices on a large number of items in Darien stores. For an updated list of Summer Sales Days participants, visit darienctchamber.com.

This is a Darien Chamber of Commerce organized event. Masks are required for shopping inside stores.

Free parking is available behind Helen Ainson, Everything Is Rosey, Shoes 'N' More, and Baubles, as well as in the Corbin Lot, on the Post Road, in the Mechanic Street parking lot, and in front of merchants on Tokeneke Road.

Coming inside

Shopping in the community is helpful to local stores “because we still have to pay taxes in town, we still have to pay leases,” Toy Box owner Bill Jensen said. “We still want to pay employees. We don’t want anybody to leave — that just makes the problem worse.”

That’s why he’s encouraging shoppers to come into the stores, where they’ll discover items they won’t see if they’re shopping online.

“If you see it in a shop, go for it,” Jensen said.

He added that the concept of “I can buy it online cheaper than I can buy it in the store - that’s not the case anymore. They have the same vendors that we have.”

Jensen said online sales are struggling because they cannot meet delivery goals.

“There are things you’re going to find online that are going to take three or four months to arrive,” he said.

He added that all products are sourced from generally the same places. “All the factories are having the same 50 percent capacity or are operating at 50 percent,” he said.

“Reinvent”

According to Jensen, the way stores can succeed during the pandemic is to “reinvent” themselves and their merchandise.

He emphasized the importance of customer service.

In regard to the Toy Box, Jensen said he’s been having success with “impulse products.” These are items such as a Shashibo cube, when customers can see close-up what they can do, when they come into the store.

“Unless their friend has the item or they saw someone playing with it, it’s unlikely they will have seen it [outside the store],” he said.

“We have to think differently and reinvent, and we have to be able to help you with an idea or what you want,” he said.

He reminded other small business owners not to compare this year’s sales with last year’s.

He said changes to the economy are “tremendous” and that this year should “our base year” to compare against. “When we compare against last year, it’s totally different,” he said.

Just like at The Toy Box, shoppers are finding what they want inside Barrett Bookstore rather than shopping online.

While the store still takes some website orders, these have eased up, store employees said.

“Most people are now coming in,” said employee Yvette Morgan. “They’re learning the advantages of discovering a book instead of knowing what you want.”

Community

Jensen said that the entire town is going through the same struggles together and therefore, should “all should look out for one another — just like we all wear masks to protect each other.”

Katherine Apuzzo of Wilton, who works at Espresso NEAT, said shopping local “keeps the community together. It’s been really cool to see Darien come out and support the shops on Grove Street and the shops that we have here.”

Apuzzo added supporting one another ensures that “I can still live around here, get to work on time, maintain my connections with the friends I’ve made working behind the shop — and I can only do that if the owner is supported in that way.

“The importance of shopping local is like home — take care of your home and your neighbors, and the community will be a brighter and better place,” she said.

Megan Searfoss, owner Darien Running Company, said the community has greeted her very warmly since she opened three weeks ago.

“It’s been great how welcoming the community is,” adding the store is using Darien Summer Sales Days as its kick-off event.

Joining forces

Rob Van Keuren, owner of Flour Water Salt Bread, is now doing local collaborations with other shops in town.

“We do a collaboration on Thursday night for pizza night. Darien Cheese [& Fine Foods] and our chefs do a collaborative pizza. It’s our sourdough crust and a super special cheese from them,” he said.

“We usually have some local vegetables from Sport Hill Farm [in Easton], or another local farm,” he added.

He said he first thought of the idea for a collaborative pizza in order to be able to source more ingredients from local purveyors “because they are business owners in town, we’re also residents of the town, and it’s all an ecosystem. We want to support it.”

He added that the store will be making the pizza collaboration indefinitely.

This week, he’s planning to create a margarita pizza with meats from the Darien Butcher Shop.

“We also wanted Fjord Fish Market to do some seafood on the pizza, so we are working with them as well,” he said.

“We try to involve as many local partners as we can,” Van Keuren added.

Safe shopping

This is the first year the event has changed its name from Sidewalk Sales and Family Fun Days, which it had been for many years.

Susan Cator executive director and president of the Darien Chamber, said the name change was the result of “different representatives of our community feeling a little nervous about crowd shopping and people feeling competitive about finding their bargains before anybody else.”

Cator continued: “We decided to rethink the whole idea of Darien Sidewalk Sales, and to do that, we really needed to just think differently. We knew that safe shopping was really important. We didn’t want to have crowds because of distancing and touching. The stores can only have so many people inside at one time. So that’s where we came up with Darien Summer Sales Days.”

She added there’s no pressure to get bargains “right then and there,” and because so many people are at home, they aren’t leaving for the weekend.

“They can shop at their leisure — with friends, with family members, with neighbors or on their own,” Cator said. “It all came together to be the perfect idea for a safe shopping week-long promotion — for young children all the way up to adult shopping, for fashion finds and jewelry, and even Gifford’s Ice Cream at Chocolate Works— There’s some fun that can be had for all.”

sfox@darientimes.com