Open just one year, Fairfield Stationers is the latest Wilton business to close its doors for good. The card and stationery store was located in the heart of Wilton’s Town Center commercial district in Stop & Shop Plaza at 5 River Road, and owner Eva Repasi said that when the store opened strong to last year’s pre-holiday shopping season, she was surprised the trend didn’t continue for her once the holidays were over.
“People talked about the economy, how no one was spending money—I didn’t see that as far as holiday spending. People were coming into the Wilton store, they did want to spend and order Christmas cards. We had a very good fourth quarter, we were welcomed in town, so I was really surprised to see things trickle down as quickly as they did.”
Figuring out the magic formula for business success is hard these days in Wilton. Longtime fixtures in the business community, like and have succumbed to high rents and economic difficulties. Yet newcomers like Swizzles Yogurt and seem to be holding their own.
Rapesi’s Fairfield-based store has been open since 1947, and she’s been with the business for the last 20 years. Based on the experience of running stores in two different markets, she notes the differences between shopping districts in Wilton and Fairfield; one of the things she says might have had impact on her business here failing is Wilton’s layout, with fewer traditional storefront sidewalks and less pedestrian traffic.
“I don’t want to say that Wilton does or doesn’t support their shops but Fairfield [shoppers] seems to support their commercial businesses more. At first I had a lot of customers who were just curious—they knew the store name, people know us from Fairfield—but it wasn’t consistent, it wasn’t every day. The walk-in traffic just wasn’t there.”
According to Repasi, the truism, “location, location, location” may not be so true in Wilton. “We took that end location, so you could see us from the street. There was definitely parking there. I don’t know what the answer is, why it wasn’t successful.”
Repasi was pragmatic about the question of high Wilton rents and blaming the economic downturn as well. “Landlords have bills to pay too. I try to see it from their way. My Wilton landlords were very generous with building out the space for me. I do feel the rent was high, but I feel the same in Fairfield. But if your customers are coming in and the registers are making sales then the rent is fair as well."
She added, "I don’t want to say it was the economy, because how long can you say that? There has to be more.”
Larger retail trends may be at work as well, though, that take a toll on the card market, especially for a small, independent retailer. “People don’t really go into a store as much to buy cards. They go online—it’s easier for people to use, if you go online, you don’t have to have a reason to actually walk into a store. Or they go to a Party City. We were sort of an afterthought for customers.”
It’s a way of business—and social—life that Respasi says is sadly a thing of the past. “As great as evite is, as economical as it is to do invitations that way, there’s something being lost. It’s the older generation that writes handwritten notes, and if they’re not passing it along to the younger generation, it’s a dying breed.”
But brick-and-mortar stores often have support in neighboring businesses, and Repasi said the Wilton business community goes out of its way to support one another—something she said she felt here more than in Fairfield.
“In our plaza there were a couple stores that would try to help each other. When I moved in, the owners and managers came over, introduced themselves, to find out what I did so they could encourage their customers to come to me and vice-versa. Out of the blue Witchypoo’s Marie Wendorff, came into my store to introduce herself and invited me to participate in a holiday sales event, and that was awesome. It gave me exposure.”
She similarly cited support from officials and the Wilton Chamber of Commerce. “The support politically and from the chamber was definitely there, and it was very gracious. Carol Johnson from the Fairfield County Bank, when she first heard about us coming to town, she came to Fairfield to meet me—it’s why I did the Wilton store’s banking with her rather than my Fairfield bank because of the personal attention. The Wilton Chamber had the First Selectman come out for a ribbon cutting. Carol would come in, patronize my store, she would always ask, ‘What can I do to help?’ And she got me involved in anything that was happening.”
Overall, Repasi said, it all depends on getting the shoppers to come into the store. “If I could live on what we did in the fourth quarter, and it was Christmas every day…” she trailed off. “But I just didn’t see people after that.”