WEST HARTFORD — With the holidays fast approaching, elected officials visited businesses along Farmington Avenue to urge residents to show their support by shopping local.

Officials including Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Mayor Shari Cantor and others said these small businesses, numbering over 355,000 across the state, have created more than 739,000 jobs.

Toy Chest manager Ed Dunn, who was filling Blumenthal in on how business has been going Tuesday morning, said the community is what’s kept the store in business for over six decades, and that they have been of a particular support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And when the store needed to move, they chose to shift one door down along Farmington Avenue instead of leaving town.

“The reason we’re here is because of the community,” Dunn said. “When we decided we needed to move we talked about going elsewhere. If we had moved out of here it would have been a terrible mistake. This is what we’re known for. People will come in here on a Saturday and are in and out for a birthday party.”

Dunn said things have been going well for the business lately, as they offer shoppers a personal experience you can’t replicate online or at big box stores.

“The good news is that with all of the things that are happening, foot traffic is up, but birthday parties are up also, which for us is huge,” Dunn said. “So many people say to me I need to look at it. I want to touch it. I’m blessed with good staff who are very helpful. I need to make sure that if someone comes in and they buy something, or they don’t, they’re happy and they will come back. That’s what I do. I know a lot of the people that come in here and that makes a big difference.”

Just prior to visiting the toy store, Blumenthal, Bysiewicz, Lamont, Cantor and the rest were next door at the Toy Chest’s previous location, which is now home to the Arethusa Farm Dairy and Cafe.

The Litchfield-based farm opened the West Hartford outpost last summer.

The farm’s co-founder, Tony Yurgaitis, said the support small businesses receive is key. The evidence is there, he said, as the farm has gone from producing 5,000 bottles of egg nog to 45,000 bottles of egg nog.

“When you support us, you’re also supporting a farm,” Yurgaitis said. “We really depend on your support. We need the community. It’s so important to support local. If you experience coming downtown, you’ll be back.”

Cantor said the work isn’t done in helping small businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This really has been a team effort to lift up and support our small businesses throughout one of the most challenging times in our history,” Cantor said. “From restaurants to small retail shops, everybody had different challenges, but I will say they were also the most generous and giving and courageous and resilient throughout this process. The heart and the soul of our communities really rests in all these incredibly important business owners. It’s up to us now to support them.”

With supply chain issues impacting some retailers, Lamont said shopping locally and in-store, rather than online, is an easy way to bypass some of those problems.

“We’re thinking globally and shopping locally and I think you’re finding out why,” Lamont said. “Here at Arethusa you don’t have to worry about where the food came. You know that egg nog wasn’t sitting on some freighter...for three months. It’s farm fresh. You know what you’re getting. That’s what I love. You don’t have to worry about inventory. You don’t have to worry about supply chain. What you see is something you can get.”

Blumenthal said it’s even more important to shop local now after what small businesses went through during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to thank those small business owners,” Blumenthal said. “The guts and grit of our small businesses has been absolutely inspiring. They have persisted during the toughest economic time in recent history. They are doing great business. They are providing great service. They are selling great goods. And now it’s our turn to show them that we’re going to stay with them and stand with them.”

Connecticut Media Group