Jessica Sanchez, Contributing Photographer

For the third year in a row, the Holiday Shopping Passport program has returned to the Elm City, hoping to encourage residents to shop at stores in downtown New Haven through raffle prizes.

This year, the passport program will run from Nov. 26 to Dec. 18. The program’s main attraction is that by spending at least $50 at three of this year’s participating retailers, shoppers can qualify to be entered into a raffle for one of three prizes. On Dec.18, the names of three shoppers will be drawn and each will win a $300 gift card to an independently-owned local retailer. 

It is the product of a partnership among three organizations focused on invigorating the local economy: The Shops at Yale, Town Green District and Market New Haven, Inc.

We were all aware of businesses across the country, and right in our own downtown, struggling to get folks to shop in-person,” Bruno Baggetta, the passport program organizer, told the News. “Our hope is that folks will consider supporting local businesses all year long, but especially during the holiday season.”

This year’s promotion will also feature nine fewer participating retailers, 35 compared to last year’s 44. Baggetta said this was a result of the program shifting its focus to independent retailers, replacing larger stores with smaller, local ones.

Unlike past programs, this year’s program will be done digitally — through QR codes and submitting photos of receipts online — rather than a physical passport. Baggetta hopes that this will make the program more environmentally friendly and easier to run.

According to Baggetta, the program was started in 2020 as a way to encourage support for businesses during a time when the pandemic had significantly stifled in-person shopping and foot traffic in downtown New Haven.

“It just drives people into the business and it allows people to shop locally,” said John Brehon, a partner at The Devil’s Gear, a bike and skate shop participating in this year’s program. “It was just a great opportunity for us to allow folks to come on into the shop.”

Although The Devil’s Gear has been in New Haven for 21 years, it only moved to its current location on Chapel St. two years ago. Brehon hopes that the passport program will allow more customers to acquaint themselves with the “totally different and eclectic vibe” of the new shop.

Sam Burton, an employee at Grey Matter Books, expressed less enthusiasm for the program. Although Grey Matter has also participated in the past, Burton said that the program had not resulted in any clear increase in traffic to the store.

“I think the hope is that people get involved in going door to door and buying stuff locally,” Burton said. “It seems kind of far fetched, but they’ve been doing it for a few years and, you know, whatever. We’re just sort of in a rut of saying ‘yes’ to these things.”

According to Baggetta, the program measures its success through two indicators: the number of entries and web engagements. Baggetta was unavailable to comment on whether there was data indicating that the program actually drives new traffic to businesses or simply rewards existing patrons.

Burton said that other programs organized by the Town Green District, like Flights of Fancy, have clearly boosted Grey Matter’s sales.

The shopping passport is one of many holiday programs, like last week’s holiday village and tree lighting ceremony, that are hoping to engage New Haven residents and shoppers.

Shoppers must be 18 years or older to participate in the program.

Khuan-Yu Hall is the City Editor at the News. He is a sophomore in Davenport, from Hartland, Vermont, double majoring in Statistics and Data Science and Ethics, Politics, and Economics.