Independent retailers in Connecticut navigate a resurgence of COVID-19 in fight for survival

West Hartford clothing store owner Kimberly Mattson Moster usually looks forward to the hustle and bustle of the holiday shopping season — the biggest time of the year for sales — but as Thanksgiving weekend gets underway, she wonders just how many people will actually turn out this year as the pandemic surges again through Connecticut.



a person sitting at a table: Hartford, CT - 10/28/20 - Khamani Harrison has launched The Key Bookstore, a Black-owned, Afrocentric bookseller in Hartford


© Photo by Brad Horrigan | [email protected]/Hartford Courant/TNS
Hartford, CT – 10/28/20 – Khamani Harrison has launched The Key Bookstore, a Black-owned, Afrocentric bookseller in Hartford

“Normally right now, I have my emails planned out and my events planned for December, but I really feel stuck: I don’t want to encourage a bunch of people to come into the store because we can only have five or six people in at the most,” said Moster, the owner of Kimberly Boutique on Farmington Avenue, which combines clothing and a gift shop.

“So to make a big Black Friday thing and say, come in and get 20% off — first of all, I can barely afford to give 20% off, but it also feels weird to drive large amounts of traffic,” Moster said.

Worries about holiday purchasing caps a year of plunging sales for many retailers hit hard by COVID-19. Sales in December are critical to the survival of independent stores and shops that have struggled after being closed down for nearly two months in the spring.



a group of people standing around a table: Morneault's Stackpole Moore Tryon co-owner Ron Morneault, left, helps a customer with a jacket Tuesday in downtown Hartford.


© Brad Horrigan/The Hartford Courant/Hartford Courant/TNS
Morneault’s Stackpole Moore Tryon co-owner Ron Morneault, left, helps a customer with a jacket Tuesday in downtown Hartford.

According to National Retail Federation, an average of 19% of a store’s annual sales come during the holiday shopping season, but for some it can be much more.

This year, social distancing has restricted the number of shoppers coming to stores, and customers have been reluctant to resume their old buying patterns. While experts say online sales will likely give retailers an edge this holiday season, it may not be easy to invest in an internet presence after a deep decline in sales.

Gov. Ned Lamont says he supports the state’s merchants in the all-important month of December. The public health crisis, however, must be the priority, with hospitalizations and deaths continuing to climb to levels similar to last spring. Lamont is urging retailers to carefully monitor customer traffic and adhere to wearing masks and other measures.



a woman sitting at a table with a laptop: Kimberly Mattson Moster, owner of Kimberly Boutique in West Hartford, hopes shoppers will come out this holiday season to boost sales in the pandemic.nnnn


© Brad Horrigan/The Hartford Courant/Hartford Courant/TNS
Kimberly Mattson Moster, owner of Kimberly Boutique in West Hartford, hopes shoppers will come out this holiday season to boost sales in the pandemic.nnnn

For all its setbacks, though, the pandemic also has sparked innovation and a quick response among independent stores determined to outlive the coronavirus.

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In downtown Hartford, emptied of corporate and government office employees sent home to work, the 110-year-old Morneault’s Stackpole Moore Tryon clothiers turned to online sales for the first time, combined with a personal shopping service.

“We pivoted into more casual clothing that you can wear into a Zoom meeting,” said Jody Morneault, who

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