Wilton 'Winter Fest' aims to help small businesses during pandemic

WILTON — Last year’s Wilton Winter Carnival was all that the town’s Chamber of Commerce could have asked for.

Roughly 400 visitors strolled into Wilton Center for four hours on an unusually warm Sunday in late January for the third annual town gathering. Families enjoyed horse-drawn carriage rides, live music and carnival games. Adults conversed over craft beers and cocktails. The 2020 Winter Carnival was one of the town’s last events unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the Wilton Winter Fest, as it has been rebranded, is a two-week effort to aid its small business sector. There are no horses or carnival games, but rather incentives placed by the Wilton Chamber of Commerce for residents to walk through town and shop at some of the area’s small businesses, which will have “sidewalk sales'' to attract more customers.

“Unfortunately, after the (COVID-19) pandemic happened, we were thinking, ‘What are we allowed to do this year?’” said Camille Carriero, executive director of the Wilton Chamber of Commerce. “This year, what we have done is focus on supplementing our small businesses in Wilton.”

According to Carriero, if a resident purchases a gift card from a chamber business from through Feb. 13, they can send a photo of the receipt to the chamber and be mailed a bonus gift certificate worth 20 percent of the gift card’s total. That bonus gift certificate will be eligible to be used at various other small businesses around Wilton, Carriero said. To attract more foot traffic to the area, Wilton Center will also be decorated with ice sculptures, winter decorations and include a socially distanced meet and greet with a “snowman” at the end of the two-week period. The chamber has also placed signage across parts of Town Center to make sure residents stay at a safe distance from each other.

Unlike last year, the Winter Fest’s opening day weather was anything but pleasant and comfortable, as a nor’easter slammed Connecticut. Winter weather, Carriero said last week, along with the post-holidays shopping fatigue, usually brings about a downtime for small businesses and that is why the chamber’s focus is to shine the spotlight on them.

“We still want people to be shopping now, even in the winter months. Generally, January, February and March can be very quiet for (businesses),” Carriero said. “Our goal is to stimulate the local economy right now.”

Although the Winter Fest is set to end on Feb. 13, Carriero said the chamber is open to extending the program, if possible.

She also reiterated that the chamber does not advise residents to congregate in close quarters while walking around Town Center, but encourages their participation in this year’s Winter Fest. Local support, she said, has to start locally.

“For new residents, this is an opportunity to see the town and encounter a new store or boutique they haven't seen before,” she said. “For older residents, it gives them an opportunity to support local business and (help) them to thrive even after the pandemic is over.”