Oberlander launches listening tour, meets with business owners

State representative candidate Jill Oberlander meets with Chilly Bear owner Richard Fulton.State representative candidate Jill Oberlander meets with Chilly Bear owner Richard Fulton.

State representative candidate Jill Oberlander meets with Chilly Bear owner Richard Fulton.State representative candidate Jill Oberlander meets with Chilly Bear owner Richard Fulton.

Jill Oberlander, the Democratic candidate for the state’s 150th District seat in the state legislature, has launched a listening tour around the district to meet with residents and business owners.

The district encompasses Byram, Cos Cob, Riverside and Old Greenwich, and since July, Ms. Oberlander has been knocking on doors and attending public events to meet with residents, she says, to hear firsthand about the key issues affecting them. The first issue on her new listening tour is small business.

“Greenwich is a highly desirable place to live, in large part because of the array of wonderful stores and businesses that operate here,” Ms. Oberlander said. “Residents don’t need to travel to malls to do their shopping when they can buy everything they need locally, often from family-run stores that have been in operation for years. The relationship between business owners and their customers is an important part of that dynamic. These personal relationships enrich the customers’ experience and create a true feeling of community.”

Upon launching the tour on Oct. 1, Ms. Oberlander visited businesses in Byram, Central Greenwich and Old Greenwich. She sat with the owners of retail stores, asked them questions about their experience as business owners and learned a wealth of information from them. Sheldon Kahan, of Interstate Lumber in Byram, whose family-run business has been in operation for 94 years, told her that traffic on I-95 is a big impediment to his business, which delivers supplies to builders far and near. On the flip side, he said that he loves this community and feels very loyal to it, so relocation is not an option.

In Central Greenwich, Ms. Oberlander met with the owner of Threads N’ Treads, a supplier of active sportswear that has been in business for 35 years and sponsors community events, including family-friendly road races and triathlons. The “personal connection to customers is so important” to the business, said Micky Yardis. There is less foot traffic these days, he noted, but he loves doing business in Greenwich.

Jill Baumeister, proprietor of J Papers, started her business in Greenwich, investing her own savings to get up and running.

“It was a big risk,” she said, “But the community has been so supportive, and my customers are incredibly loyal.”

In Old Greenwich, Ms. Oberlander spent time with the owners of Upper Crust Bagel and Chilly Bear. At Upper Crust, owner Robert Guerrieri said the community means everything to him. The store has been open for so many years that “people who came here as kids now come in with their own children, who see pictures of their parents as teenagers on the wall.”

Chilly Bear owner Richard Fulton also grew up in Greenwich and has been in business for 25 years, having relocated to Old Greenwich five years ago. Ms. Oberlander asked him what the state could do to better support small businesses. He told her that he would love to see an NHL franchise come to Bridgeport to fill what will soon be an empty arena and bring in new revenue.

“You never know what great ideas can surface in a conversation with people who care about their community,” Ms. Oberlander said, adding that the “overwhelming takeaway” from these visits was that these business owners are committed to their customers and their community. And their customers and community are loyal to them.

“Locally owned stores enhance our quality of life significantly by giving Greenwich a vibrant retail landscape that makes this town a beautiful, dynamic and welcoming place to live,” Ms. Oberlander said.

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