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Downtown businesses hope community will still Shop the Blocks
Shop the Blocks
Sue Barrett peruses the displays at Farm House in downtown Turlock on Friday afternoon, which is one of many businesses participating in Sunday’s Shop the Blocks event (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

Since 2016, downtown businesses have come together during the first weekend in November for the annual Shop the Blocks event — a day of retail therapy for community members that also serves as one of the most profitable shopping days of the year for the boutiques, gift shops and restaurants along Main Street. While the event may look different this year in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, business owners are in need of local support now more than ever.

Shop the Blocks first began four years ago when businesses in downtown Turlock decided to hold their annual holiday open houses on the same day. Together, the storefronts celebrate the fast-approaching holidays by transforming their interiors into scenes worthy of a Christmas card and offering special deals to customers, who flock from business to business on party buses filled with champagne and good spirits.

As with all things in 2020, however, COVID-19 has put a damper on those plans. Main Street Antiques co-owner Lori Smith said that when downtown businesses owners learned that there would be no City-sanctioned Shop the Blocks event this year, they decided to band together and host a small-scale event on Sunday in an effort to still celebrate the start of the holiday shopping season. Instead of party buses and champagne, Shop the Blocks in 2020 will feature plenty of masks, social distancing and hand sanitizer.

While shoppers may be asked to wait outside of stores in order to abide by capacity guidelines, it’s Smith’s hope that their support will be comparable to years past despite the changes.

“It’s still our holiday kickoff which has always been a big day for us, so we wanted to keep it going,” Smith said. “We’re hoping that people will come downtown and support not only us but the restaurants and maybe even the salons, who have taken a big hit this year.”

When California went into lockdown back in March, downtown Turlock was eerily quiet as business owners shuttered their storefronts to curb the spread of the virus. Many made ends meet by providing curbside pickup for items sold in their stores, but were unsure of how the pandemic would affect them financially.

Thanks to community support, businesses downtown have continued to survive. But they are still banking on holiday shoppers to shop small this fall in order to not only make up for business lost to the pandemic, but also meet the expectations of their most profitable time of the year.

“Shopping small is so important, especially this year,” said Candace Gonsalves of Farm House. “Downtown Turlock is so beautiful and has so many great shops. The moment we start to lose one, it’s almost like a domino effect. We don’t want to see that happen, and the only way we’re going to stay in business is if everyone supports us all.”

Despite the surge in online shopping during the pandemic, Gonsalves said that the community’s support in light of current circumstances has been heartwarming — but not unexpected. Still, she realizes that not everyone may be comfortable coming into stores these days, so Farm House is also offering private shopping experiences for those who’d like the gift shop to themselves. She also hopes that Turlock residents will continue to shop locally up until Christmas, rather than just this one day.

“We have something special in Turlock and they always rally around us, and in return they know that when they need something, we’re here for them,” Gonsalves said. “It’s been a really hard year, so it’s important that these next two months where we would normally do a majority of our sales turn out somewhat normal, if there is some type of normalcy these days.”

Like Farm House, downtown boutique Bijou made do by offering curbside pickup and delivery service for items. Co-owner Tai Teague said she believes the pandemic has helped the community realize the importance of supporting small businesses even more than they already did. She’s hoping for the same attitude this weekend, as Shop the Blocks is Bijou’s most profitable day of the year — earning the store more than Black Friday even.

“I’ve heard more and more people this year saying that they’re going to shop small this Christmas,” Teague said. “I think that’s really important because the more you use your funds to give back to your community, the nicer your community is. When you shop online, you’re taking money out of your city.”

Like many business owners in downtown Turlock, Teague is looking forward to Shop the Blocks, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

“It’s a great day because it’s the community coming together,” she said. “You can feel the love throughout downtown.”