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Shopping small 'so important' during the holidays

MIDDLETOWN — Looking for the perfect holiday gift for everyone on your list is as easy as stepping away from the computer, bypassing those big-box stores and heading downtown.

Middletown has a wide enough range of businesses for the children, adults and four-legged friends you are shopping for. Small businesses also offer the level of personalized service hard to find elsewhere.

Shoppers also know they are helping their community thrive by these endeavors.

“Shopping locally is so important this time of year for small business owners. COVID was hard on local businesses, and this year is our opportunity to help support them by shopping and dining locally,” said Sandra Russo-Driska, Downtown Business District coordinator.

“Downtowns are vital to municipalities as a whole to thrive, and downtown Middletown has so many wonderful options — from our many ethnically diversified restaurants to our shops and entertainment venues," she added.

n fact, the city's motto is "It's all here."

Many stores offer gift wrapping and have promotions going on this time of year. “We have everything for everyone on your list — from the bookworm to the cheese monger to self-care to apparel for men and women, jewels for the sparkling, and instruments for music lovers ... and much much more,” Russo-Driska explained.

Boutique, bakery and books

Sugar Leaf, at 122 College St., is a "highbrid" boutique focusing on CBD wellness and self-care, as well as cannabis accessories and unique gift items, featuring brands and companies owned by women and other underrepresented groups. “We have a curated collection of functional glass art, and always have a wide assortment of other types of art from local artists, ranging from acrylic drip paintings to photography to crocheted arts,” said owner Kristin Souza.

She has several best-selling gifts this holiday season, including "Stashlogix discreet and secure stash bags and boxes, local hemp products, such as mono-floral honey or hemp flower from a local farm in Harwinton, along with one of our coffee mugs and hand-blown glass ornaments created right here in Portland,” she said.

Souza and other owners are appreciative of choosing them instead of going online. “By making a commitment to shop local and support small businesses, you are cycling money back into your community in a variety of ways,” she said.

As part of its holiday events, Sugar Leaf will host a holiday succulent crafting event on Friday at 7 p.m.

Books always make for great holiday gifts for readers, and Wesleyan RJ Julia Booksellers at 413 Main St. can even make personalized recommendations. Besides books, the store offers games and puzzles along with journals, stationery and greeting cards; ornaments, candles and made-in-Connecticut items.

Books for children include "Christmas Street," "Go, Sled! Go!," "The Smallest Snowflake," "MapMaker" and "Aces Wild: A Heist."

Adult books cover a wide range of interests, such as "Bleeding Green: A History of the Hartford Whalers" for sports fans, "Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman" for cinema buffs, "Drink the Northeast" for the microbrew fan, and "Lonely Planet: Epic Road Trips of the Americas." 

Others include "What’s for Dessert: Simple Recipes for Dessert People," Steve Martin’s autobiography, "Number One Is Walking: My Life in the Movies and Other Diversions" and "Rolling Stone: The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time."

RJ Julia’s is hosting several free holiday events in its store this month. A Chanukah story time will be held on Saturday at 10:30 am, featuring "How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?" by Jane Yolen with guest reader Carly Hoss, president of the Congregation Adath Israel in Middletown. Online registration is required.

A winter solstice story time will take place Dec. 21 at 6 p.m., where interactive stories featuring wintry picture books will be read. It is for all ages, with no registration required.

Ongoing through Dec. 19, children may stop by the kids department during store hours to write letters to Santa with all supplies provided.

Sweet Harmony Cafe and Bakery, at 330 Main St., now under new ownership, is in holiday mode with its Christmas cookies (perfect for hostess gifts) available for ordering.

“These platters will include biscotti, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, ginger snap cookies, royal sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies and Snickerdoodle cookies,” said co-owner Sarah Jones.

They will also have Yule log preorders in the following flavors: spice cake with cream cheese icing, red velvet with cream cheese icing, chocolate cake with hazelnut crème in a chocolate crispy shell, and a gluten-free chocolate cake with cherry mousse and dark chocolate ganache.

Sweet Harmony will also host Cookies with Santa Dec. 18, from 2 to 4 p.m., including a gingerbread house and tree ornament cookies for kids to decorate, Christmas movie screening, snacks for both kids and their parents, hot chocolate and coffee, and a visit by Santa. Tickets are $40 each, but a sibling discount is available. Enrollment is limited to 20 children.

Holiday events have been taking place all over town all month, including this weekend, which features an immersive production of "A Christmas Carol" at the Wadsworth Mansion Friday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. The 90-minute show that offers a fresh take on Scrooge’s life involves moderate walking, some of it outdoors, and is recommended for ages 8 and up.

For information,

Middletown Business District: Shopping small 'so important' (

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