While many people think of the holidays as a time to spend with family and friends, a lot of people also see it as a time to shop and spend money. With the economy the way it is, merchants, consumers and the town alike are trying their best to keep the bottom line in mind.

The recently appointed Market Demand Study Committee is hard at work discovering trends and ways to bring in more businesses to New Canaan. The group is made up of six members, including Town Planner Steve Kleppin. They were recently appointed at the Nov. 16 Board of Selectmen meeting. The study itself was a recommendation that came out of the 2007 Downtown New Canaan Strategic Plan.

Their first meeting on Nov. 30 was spent narrowing down which firm would best be suited to take on this study as well as highlighting the focus of its mission.

"We are trying to identify ways to bring business into town," Committee Chairman John Goodwin said. The group stressed that whatever consultant is brought on board would need to focus on the commercial market aspect of downtown and possibly impact on traffic. Other members of the group stressed everything from the walkability of New Canaan to the balance of retail stores and restaurants.

"Gap analysis is another important aspect," Goodwin said. "The firm should be able to tell us what we are missing and what we might want."

With 11 firms in front of them, the committee narrowed the list down to five firms they plan to meet with by mid-December. In terms of paying for the study, the town received a Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant in 2009 in the amount of $75,000 that would cover the costs of the initiative.

Tucker Murphy, a member of the committee as well as the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, is optimistic about business in New Canaan.

"This past holiday weekend was pretty good for the stores," she said. "I've spoken to some of the merchants and it seems like they have done well."

While some of the merchants have done well, they are hoping for more this holiday season.

"It was good this past weekend," Pauline Dora, owner of Design Solutions, said. "It certainly could have been worse." Dora believes that this weekend's Holiday Stroll will bring in even more shoppers to the downtown stores. "With all the stores being open late, it should be good."

The recent American Express initiative dubbed "Small Business Saturday" after Black Friday may have had contributed to more shopping this past weekend. American Express offered consumers who registered online $25 to shop at local businesses on Saturday. It's first year in existence had a mixed response in New Canaan.

Dan Mulhern, owner of M. Milestones, is certainly hoping for more customers this weekend after seeing a lukewarm response to the American Express "Small Business Saturday" initiative at his store. "It was not as successful as we had hoped," Mulhern said. "Still, traffic from the stroll this weekend could help."

Toy Chest owner Ann Lathrop, on the other hand, saw a good turnout thanks to "Small Business Saturday".

"The weekend went well," Lathrop said. "The American Express project did seem to bring people out to our store. New Canaan is great in that aspect though. People here always support small businesses."

Like many of the other merchants, Lathrop does believe that The Holiday Stroll will be beneficial as well. But no one would stress that more than Tucker Murphy.

"We really want people to shop New Canaan on Saturday while they enjoy the Holiday Stroll," she said. "If people don't shop here, it can't be the New Canaan we all love."