Buildings in quaint CT town becoming shopping destination

If the walls of the historic red barn and house at 135 and 133 Main Street could talk, they could tell of the town’s earliest fire service, a women’s seminary in the 1800s, and about the legendary Red Barn Christmas Shop and its shopkeeper.

But now those Old Wethersfield buildings, located on the same parcel are gathering new stories, as three retail businesses with unique products and all led by women have recently opened in the buildings.

With the goal of creating a shopping destination, the owners are considering naming their enclave something along the line of Shops at One Hope, because the property is known as One Hope on Main, a nod to its historical significance as the 1804 Old Wethersfield fire station, One Hope 1.

The house was built in 1766 for sea Captain Ashbel Wright.

In the 1800s Joseph Emerson relocated his woman’s seminary to Wethersfield from out of state and at first lived across the street at 133 Main St. before the academy itself was moved there.

In the red barn building there’s a new toy store, Birdie’s, and in the neighboring red house, a children’s clothing store, Raised on Ridge and a vintage and new item home decor store, Cottonwood + Churches.

The businesses opened recently independent of one another, but the owners have already become fast friends and are working together to support each other.

The property is fairly newly owned by Mike and Kathy Clarke, who own Main Street Creamery &  Cafe down the street and live in Old Wethersfield as well.

The Clarke’s emotional investment in Old Wethersfield runs deep — and so they interviewed prospective tenants in depth to make sure they felt the same.

Kathy Clarke said they could have had the three spaces rented in an hour if they wanted to bring in an attorney’s office or hairdresser. They purchased the parcel in Oct. 2022.

But Clarke said they hoped to find the right people who would work together and appreciate the preservation goals.

One of the questions they put out in their rental interviews was, “Why Old Wethersfield?” Kathy Clarke said.

“We wanted people who loved the community and would be careful and thoughtful about the property, the business,” Clarke said. “We really just took our time waiting for the right people to come through…We turned down a lot of people.”

The business owners get along, Clarke said.”It’s nice they’ve become a collection of businesses,” she said.

Here’s a look at the three businesses operating out of the Clarke’s historic red barn and house:

Birdie’s (a toy store)

Jen La Bella, mom of two, had been thinking about opening a child-related business and when she walked in, “It hit me like a stack of bricks ”

“Seeing the space connected some of the dots for me,” she said, noting those dots essentially were that the space was perfect for a “high quality” toy store that she would simply call, “Birdie’s,” because she’s always loved the word.

Along with the toys, lamps, prints and some nursery decor she will soon offer classes for babies and toddlers, including music, arts and crafts, sensory activities and story time.

Jen La Bella, owner of Birdie's, shows some of the toys at her store in Wethersfield on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. The three stores; Birdie's, Raised On Ridge and Cottonwood + Church recently opened at 135 Main St. in Wethersfield. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)
Jen La Bella, owner of Birdie’s, shows some of the toys at her store in Wethersfield on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. The three stores; Birdie’s, Raised On Ridge and Cottonwood + Church recently opened at 135 Main St. in Wethersfield. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)

La Bella opened officially Jan. 5, about a month after the other two businesses were in place and, “We’re getting amazing feedback,” from those who visit, she said.

In her career before having children La Bella was a buyer at a furniture store.

Her shopping interests changed after having daughter, Clover, who is almost 4, and son, Remy, 18 months old.

“I’ve always enjoyed buying things for them more than I like buying things for myself,” she said “I’m always trying to improve their rooms.”

La Bella was a fan of taking the children to Old Wethersfield before she opened the store because of its quaintness, so it was a perfect fit.

Birdie’s focuses on toys for toddlers and preschoolers, but is expanding to the range of newborn to pre-teen.

Some of their toys come from Europe, others are locally made from venues in Connecticut.

They carry puzzles, stuffed animals that look like pets, crafts, items for imaginary play, costumes dolls, games, lamps, wall prints and more toys La Bella said aren’t single use, but rather can be passed on to siblings, cousins or whomever.

“They won’t be thrown away because they’re cheap plastic,” but rather other materials including a lot of wood.

She taps Connecticut producers as well and as an example is planning to carry mindfulness decks of cards that says things such as “be still like a deer,” and “listen to the wind.”

“This has been a dream come true. So much fun,” La Bella said.

Birdie’s is closed Monday and Tuesday and open Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

She adores that the three businesses are working in concert to complement one another and boost each other’s businesses.

“It’s a good group of businesses drawing a similar demographic,” La Bella said. “There’s no drama were just supporting each other.”

Raised on Ridge (children’s clothing)

Twin sisters Jenna Carcia and Lauren Ambrosie, both mothers of two, said they opened Raised on Ridge because they realized how limited local options were for quality children’s clothes that are “unique, organic and stylish.”

The shop carries children’s clothing and accessories from newborn to 10 youth in a variety of woman-owned brands at different price points, “but all of high quality,” Ambrosie said.

The women were born and raised on Ridge Road in Wethersfield, hence, the name.

“We are humbled to be able to start a business in our hometown and hope to be able to further add to the beauty and sense of community old Wethersfield brings,” Carcia said.

They opened the store front the first week in December, but spent much of 2023 participating in local pop-up events and markets to gain brand exposure in the area.

“No longer living in town, building this business in Old Wethersfield has reconnected me with so many wonderful people from growing up. I’ve loved catching up with old friends and specifically being able to support other moms in the joys and challenges of parenthood,” Ambrosie said.

Carcia, a former kindergarten teacher, said: “I love that this business has allowed me to learn and grow in a new discipline while still allowing me to use my creativity and work with families.”

The sisters said they have enjoyed partnering with the two other businesses because each of them come with different backgrounds and experiences for ideas.

The store hours are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cottonwood + Church (vintage and new home goods)

Greg and Chelsea Riendeau call their vintage and modern home goods and decor store Cottonwood + Church to combine the names of two streets they lived on when they were first married

Previously Chelsea Riendeau was an educator, leaving the field in 2022 to start the business online and at pop-ups.

Greg Riendeau works full-time elsewhere in sales, but is involved with the business, as he too loves vintage items.

The couple have always both loved shopping in Old Wethersfield and visit often, they said. So when the opportunity to operate in the historic home came up, they went for it, opening recently in December 2023.

Greg and Chelsea Riendeau, owners of Cottonwood + Church, show some of the vintage and modern goods they sell at their store in Wethersfield on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. The three stores; Birdie's, Raised On Ridge and Cottonwood + Church recently opened at 135 Main St. in Wethersfield. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)
Greg and Chelsea Riendeau, owners of Cottonwood + Church, show some of the vintage and modern goods they sell at their store in Wethersfield on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. The three stores; Birdie’s, Raised On Ridge and Cottonwood + Church recently opened at 135 Main St. in Wethersfield. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)

“We have a great small business community here in general,” Greg Riendeau said. “Everyone here is helpful and wants to see everyone succeed.”

The couple’s business focuses on vintage goods and mixing them with modern decor. Their tagline is: “vintage and modern goods curated.”

She’s been collecting items for years and said she loves the nostalgia items spark of memories made with, say grandma or whomever.

Greg Riendeau said he likes that they have, “unique products we don’t see every day.”

Greg Riendeau said they have a broad shopper demographic at Cottonwood + Church, from teenagers on, and the three stores complement one another.

“It brings in a lot of younger families looking to decorate and also grandparents here and to the clothing, toy store as well,” he said.

Chelsea Riendeau said the community has been “welcoming.”

The shop is closed Monday and Tuesday and open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, noon to 5 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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