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On Small Business Saturday, tradition carries on in Niantic

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East Lyme — With deals at more than a dozen shops, elf costumes, singing and hula-hooping, and holiday music coming out of festive storefronts, the Niantic Holiday Stroll continued on through the pandemic on this Small Business Saturday.

It just looked a little different, with visitors wearing masks, shoppers patiently waiting in lines outside shops due to indoor capacity restrictions, and no horse and carriage rides.

In lieu of a visit with kids, Santa drove up and down Main Street in one classic car, ringing a bell and calling out to passersby, with the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who later making the rounds in another. Kids could write a letter to Santa and drop it off at the Niantic Children's Museum for a chance to win a Zoom chat with Santa.

Niantic Main Street organized the 17th annual event. Communications director Rita Rivera — dressed in a green velvet elf dress with red-and-white striped stockings and a gingerbread man mask — said that "because this is the last hurrah" before the tourism off-season, the group wanted to do something for the merchants.

"We're thrilled for the number of people that have come out to show support for small businesses," said Carol Cave, manager at the gift shop Bayberries. "We're lucky we live in such a supportive community."

The pandemic pushed Bayberries to start an online store, and the shop also offers curbside pickup. As for the remainder of the holiday shopping season, Cave said she doesn't know what to expect.

The boutique Grace also has a website and curbside pickup. Co-owner Rachel Rinoski said that though she had a line outside since 10:15 a.m., "people are able to be more intentional with their gift-giving and, once they get in the store, it's a pretty relaxing experience."

She started doing specials at the beginning of November, earlier than usual, and said the pandemic has made it more important than ever to shop local this year.

"It's important to support the small businesses in this town so they stay here after this is over," Bob Buckley said. He was waiting in line outside Azalea with his wife, Robin, and two younger sisters, Catherine and Bridget, all in their 20s and 30s. They're all from East Lyme and come to the Niantic Holiday Stroll every year.

This year, Catherine Buckley said while it was different, "they really tried to make it as upbeat as possible" and she was impressed. In Azalea, she was planning to buy some mittens that Robin Buckley's mother made and was selling there.

Various businesses are entering the window contest, which runs until Dec. 12, and people can text their favorite window to (888) 523-1505. Along with shopping, people sat outside to eat at Family Pizza and The Black Sheep in the 57-degree weather, and the East Lyme Police Department held a stuff-a-cruiser toy drive.

Accompanied by her mother and 14-year-old sister, 8-year-old Riley Ahearn was participating in the Mermaid Elf Trail Scavenger Hunt. Shortly after 1 p.m., she'd found three mermaid elves hidden in window shops and was looking for the other two to get a prize.

"We just love Niantic, and we love shopping small, and the weather's beautiful," said her mother, Theresa Arpin. She said they're from Douglas, Mass., but have a beach cottage in Black Point.

"I think it's nice to be able to get out. It's kind of like normal," said her older daughter, Avery Glidden.

Elsewhere in southeastern Connecticut, the shops in Olde Mistick Village were open for extended hours on Small Business Saturday, while New London held the first day of its Holiday Market at Parade Plaza and livestreamed its tree lighting.

The Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut is holding its annual Holiday Shopping Trail & Challenge — of which The Day is a sponsor — both online and in-person. Participants can complete daily challenges, and completing more challenges increases the chances of winning the grand prize of $500 to spend at the business of one's choice.


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