Trumbull aims to Celebrate Local this holiday season

TRUMBULL — As the country prepares to celebrate the holidays with online parties and virtual gatherings, Trumbull is hoping to encourage old-fashioned local shopping with its Celebrate Local campaign.

“Trumbull really has a large number of small businesses where the owners also live in town and are active members of the community,” said Economic and Community Development Director Rina Bakalar.

Bakalar said the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a boom in online retail as people remained home and did their shopping from their computers, came at an especially bad time.

“Local businesses had just started finding the right balance in competing with the online retailers and then the pandemic blew that,” she said. “Amazon has been great since they’ve been in town, already working with the nature center and cleaning up the area. But there’s room for all of us, and in this difficult time, we want to show that we value all our town businesses.”

Celebrate Local is a wide-ranging mix of programs that seeks to promote locally owned businesses in town. Coordinated through the Economic and Community Development Commission, plus Bakalar and First Selectman Vicki Tesoro, Celebrate Local has recently secured a $5,000 UI Main Street Dollars grant and a $100,000 from the state’s Community Development Small Cities Block Grant COVID-19 program.

The small cities grant will provide 3,600 meals for Trumbull residents who are in need. But the way the program is structured, local businesses will also see a benefit, officials said.

“Meals will be delivered directly from local eateries to participants’ homes,” Tesoro wrote in the grant application in August. “The town will set up vendor accounts with all eateries and approve all menus. Local eateries will invoice the town ... for all authorized participant meals.”

Although the town currently operates a Meals on Wheels program through the Senior Center, the need greatly exceeds the 25 daily meals that the center can provide, she said.

“With a potential resurgence in COVID-19 cases this fall, coupled with flu season, it is essential that we are prepared with resources to help these vulnerable residents to limit their exposure and to have nutritious food,” Tesoro said.

The Main Street Dollars grant will allow the town to distribute 500 $10 certificates to spend in local small businesses that have agreed to participate in the program, Bakalar said.

“We will focus on businesses that are in our business commercial centers,” she said. This will include restaurants, salons, gift shops, florist shops, coffee houses and other service-related businesses in the community. National chains will not be eligible, she said.

“We will require that the resident spends at least $20 to qualify to use the Main Street Dollar certificate toward that purchase,” she said. “While there will be no income test when distributing Main Street Dollars to residents, we do want to prioritize those who may have limited or fixed incomes so they can receive a direct financial benefit to help them to enjoy something they would like or purchase something they need.”

The final details of both programs are still being worked out, but the plan is on the agenda for the ECDC meeting Dec. 1.

Finally, even those who do not participate in either program can help the local economy through the pandemic and the long-term recovery that lies ahead, Bakalar said.

“This time of year, a lot of employers throw holiday parties for their employees,” Bakalar said. “But this year, that may be hard to do with social distancing and restrictions.”

So companies that decide against the traditional employee party can instead hand out gift cards to local businesses, she said.

“That’s what I’m doing this year — instead of the staff or the commission getting lunch, (I’ll) get some gift cards to local businesses,” she said. “It helps the employees and it also helps our small businesses.”