Rain or Shine, Retail is Bustling this Summer in Madison

Judy Pariseau, of Clinton, converses with Andrew Brennan, head buyer at RJ Julia Booksellers. (CT Examiner)


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MADISON – After a slow start to the summer season due to a mostly chilly late spring, an influx of summer residents and tourists have helped boost sales for businesses along the main shopping district on Boston Post Road.

The summer “had a little odd beginning to it, [and I was] wondering if the economy was going to play a part, but then it picked up to what we’re used to,” said Lori Fazio, Chief Operations Officer of RJ Julia Booksellers. “July was nice, because we know people are coming into town. People make a point to come from all over the state and come to Madison.”

In previous summers, customers would show up at the beginning of the day before heading to the beach, during the lunch hour, or at the end of the day after a day at the beach, but the pattern is different this year, she said.

“We have seen waves of business more than years past,” she said. “All of a sudden, it’s a little sporadic.”

Another wild card is the role of weather, especially this summer’s heavy rain storms.

“We’ll joke we were busy because it was raining and everybody wanted to come in, or it was really quiet because it was raining and nobody wanted to go out.”

She said she expects the summer to stay active as the bookshop’s summer programming is still going strong.

“We’ve got a lot of events in August, a full array of kids’ things,” she said. “We have our fall event schedule that’s starting to fill up.”

Joan Horton, owner of the boutique shop J. Horton, said this summer has a different feel to it because “a lot of people are coming into town and seeing Madison for the first time.”

In previous years, she said, people would go to Hammonasset Beach State Park and sometimes come into town, but there have been more first time visitors this year.

“There are a lot more tourists in town – we have 30 to 40 people walk into the store, say thank you, and then walk out,” she said. “It’s a different kind of mindset than it used to be. Madison has gotten a lot of publicity. A lot of people are taking day trips and are curious.”

She said this has been a good thing. Though people may not buy anything on their first visit, they are becoming familiar with shops in town and may buy something the next time around.

Horton also noted that the weather played into a late start for businesses and that the summer season didn’t really start this year until mid-June.

“April to May was really weird,” she said. “It’s not conducive, whether it’s the weather of the world, the economy, or all of the above. There’s a genuine hold off on what shopping is about in general.”

But for Richard Santanelli, owner of Tony’s Barbershop, an establishment that’s been situated in the heart of downtown Madison for 56 years, business is booming.

“There’s not a lot of barbers anymore,” he said. “The town’s grown and there’s just not enough time for everybody. I work by appointment now and I’m booked all day. We’re fortunate. There aren’t a lot of barbers around. It’s been very good.”

An increase in real estate sales in town has elevated the town’s population, Santanelli said, increasing demand for hair cuts, especially in the summer season. 

Meig Walz Newcomb, a realtor for Coldwell Banker Realty, said the real estate market is crazy right now.

“Madison is highly desirable,” she said. “With people not going into the office 100% of the time, we’re an easy option if you’re only having to go into the city three times a week.”

She said Madison real estate is a bargain with its proximity to Fairfield County and New York City.

“The crime rate is a joke, our school system’s excellent, it’s the whole package,” she said. 

Summer homes are still selling, she said, and she’s seen an uptick in academic rentals that run from September to May.

“A lot of times it makes sense to rent a house for 10 months and understand the market you’re buying into than buy a house and realize you’ve made a mistake,” Walz Newcomb said. “There’s 36 on the market and there’s usually 12. A lot of people have bought homes thinking they’ll use it over the summer and rent it out over the winter.”

She said that much of Madison’s population increase is still being attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, with people moving from more densely populated areas like Fairfield County and New York City, and now people moving from Boston.

“As of March 2020, I was saying the real estate market in Connecticut wouldn’t get fixed until we fixed the economy in Connecticut,” she said. “Obviously I was wrong. We had companies leaving here as fast as they could. It was starting to hurt. It turned out, with COVID, it doesn’t matter where you work, so it sort of fixed the market in that way.”

Judy Parda, who runs Savvy Tea Gourmet, said a lot of vacationers have visited her shop, which moved to the Boston Post Road in the past year. 

“Our summer has been lovely. A lot of people coming to Madison have discovered us,” she said. 

“We’ve been in Madison for 15 years, but this location seems to be working out well for us.”

Much of the tea shop’s success this summer, she said, was not only location, but their product, selling over 300 teas from 14 different countries. 

“We have weekly tea tastings that are very popular,” she said. “We have an education center in the back. We have in house and virtual options. The subjects change every week.” 

Echoing other merchants on Boston Post Road, Melissa Deberadinis, owner of women’s clothing store Country Shop, said that lately  sales have increased significantly compared to early summer.

“We had our sidewalk sales last week and it was crazy busy,” she said. “The weather was crazy hot, but people came out. It was good.”

Heather Estep, who works at the olive oil and vinegar shop The Shoreline Vine, said business has been pretty good for the summer and feels like it has been busier this year.

“I’m not a native of this area,” she said. “It all depends on the weather. I think we had a really weird spring. It was cold and very slow.” 

Estep and many other business people along Boston Post Road are preparing for the upcoming Beachcombers Day on Aug. 17 where businesses set up on the sidewalk with special sales and items for patrons. 

“We’ll whip up a special cocktail, using one of our vinaigrettes,” Estep said. “I’m thinking cucumber melon, mint, maybe rum or vodka.”

“There’s food trucks, the stores stay open, there’s sales, there’s raffles,” said Deberadinis.“That’s our last event of the summer.”

“It’s a fun night for families and drinkers,” Horton said. “The whole town comes out. It feels like, ‘Why doesn’t this happen all the time?’ It’s a celebratory time for the town.”