Greenwich's 'iconic' Sidewalk Sale Days bounce back after missing a year due to COVID-19

Photo of Tatiana Flowers

GREENWICH — Sophia Scarpelli has participated in the Sidewalk Sale Days in Greenwich for about 20 years — and she said that’s no easy task for a single owner of a small business.

She must pack up her merchandise and “schlep” it from her store, Scarpelli’s Costume Rentals at 1 Liberty Way, to her sidewalk spot. “It’s lot of work,” she said.

A Greenwich native, Scarpelli recalls that one year a storm hit, with wind that destroyed her tent and rain that drenched her products. She lost most of her earnings that day. And last year, the event was called off due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The pandemic presented one of the greatest challenges in her nearly 40 years in business, Scarpelli said, as she lost about 80 percent of her earnings.

But on Thursday morning, the first day of the sidewalk sale, Scarpelli was again greeting customers under a white tent in front of 299 Greenwich Ave. that was filled with colorful summer clothes, candles and jewelry.

As clouds hovered above at about 11:45 a.m., a few shoppers walked by and glanced at Scarpelli’s tent, as she played “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips and assisted a few customers.

“I always come to the Sidewalk Sale,” said Elaine Klausman of Bedford, N.Y., who said she arrived at 8 a.m.

“It’s just fun to get bargains. I’m just finding that this year, a lot of stores don’t have quite as much. Obviously, we can figure out why,” she said, referencing the COVID-19 pandemic.

In past years, the crowd seemed larger on the first day of the event, Klausman and Scarpelli said.

Marcia O’Kane, president and chief executive officer of the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, has organized the Sidewalk Sale Days for more than a decade. She was out monitoring the event on the Avenue on the opening morning.

“We generally start planning for this large event in January of every year. But because of COVID, we only received permission from our governor in April to put it on,” O’Kane said. “So, it’s been quite a push, to get 90 retailers to participate, but we made it and are so proud of our central Greenwich Avenue retailers who cooperated.”

The Sidewalk Sale is “iconic,” she said — and is the largest outdoor shopping event in the state.

Many local businesses depend on the annual Sidewalk Sale for their yearly income, O’Kane added.

The event continues through Sunday — “and we suggest that everyone check the weather carefully and dress appropriately,” she said, with Tropical Storm Elsa expected to hit eastern Connecticut early Friday.

Impact of COVID-19

The pandemic’s financial toll on small businesses is difficult to measure. But O’Kane estimated that of the 6,000 businesses in Greenwich, about 30 closed during the COVID-19 crisis.

For Scarpelli, it has been difficult to remain open. In February 2020, she began to hear about the coronavirus. “By the middle of March, we were done,” she said of her business operations.

She said she lost all the sales she was expecting from Purim, a Jewish holiday in late February which traditionally is very profitable for her. Sales were still down during Mardi Gras, and at the end of the school year, when she makes a large sum from school programs and projects, said Scarpelli.

The 62-year-old, who has owned her business since she was 21, is hoping for a reprieve during the Sidewalk Sale Days but conceded that thee summer months are usually slow for her business.

The town and the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, however, have been supportive, promoting small local businesses during the pandemic, she said.

“I think Greenwich people really wanted to help us, and I think that’s the only reason why I had a good Christmas,” Scarpelli said.

“Everybody came out and said, ‘We’re not going buy online. We’re going to help the little stores,”’ she said. “For me, it was monumental.”

And Scarpelli remains optimistic about the future.

“I’m hoping to have a booming Halloween and a booming Christmas,” she added. “I think people want to party. I think people are tired of being cooped up, and I think it’s going to be a fantastic year and I’m going to be positive.”

The Sidewalk Sale Days will continue 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. through 5 p.m. Sunday. The Greenwich Chamber of Commerce is urging businesses to securely anchor their tents and put away objects because of Tropical Storm Elsa.

For information about the Sidewalk Sale Days, including about parking, visit www.greenwichchamber.com.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Sophia Scarpelli’s age and to clarify the business she lost from Purim.

tatiana.flowers@thehour.com @TATIANADFLOWERS