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Silk Purse to close after four decades

Published 10:21 am, Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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  • Silk Purse, a 41-year-old consignment shop located at 118 Main St., New Canaan, Conn., is shutting its doors Sept. 30, 2014. Owner Keren Widmann said the decline in sales was one of the major factors that led to the decision. Photo: Nelson Oliveira / New Canaan News
    Silk Purse, a 41-year-old consignment shop located at 118 Main St., New Canaan, Conn., is shutting its doors Sept. 30, 2014. Owner Keren Widmann said the decline in sales was one of the major factors that led to the decision. Photo: Nelson Oliveira

 

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It's happening again. Another decades-old, locally owned New Canaan business is about to close.

After 41 years in town, the Silk Purse consignment shop, 118 Main St., is shutting down Sept. 30.

"We're heartbroken," longtime customer Claudia Parks said. "It's the end of an era."

The news comes days after the closing of the 24-year-old Littlejohn's children's clothing store at 120 Elm St. on Aug. 14.

Silk Purse's owner, Keren Widmann, said her decision to close Silk Purse was based on a combination of factors.

"First of all, we've been here for 41 years. It's sort of the time, in that respect," Widmann said. "The second thing is that sales have slowed down a lot in the last three or four years. It wasn't profitable."

Founded in 1973, the consignment shop has offered high-quality household furnishings and accessories, such as furniture, china, glass, paintings, shelves, chairs, lamps, rugs and jewelry.

"We have very nice things here," Widmann said. "Our consignments came from all over, but we were pretty selective. ... Up until recently, we knew what our customers wanted and we provided it, on both ends, buy or sell."

Unlike Littlejohn's, which closed mainly because of high rent, Widmann said rent was "definitely not one of the reasons" she's closing Silk Purse.

"Our landlord reduced rent by about half in 2009, when the housing market crashed," she said, adding that the lease expires Aug. 31, but she was given the month of September for free.

According to a listing on William Raveis Real Estate's website, the 3,348-square-foot space is available for $167,400 a year. However, given that Silk Purse combined two stores into one, the space can be divided. The rent per square foot is $50.

Silk Purse started as a small shop at Morse Court at a time when consignment "was sort of a new idea," Widmann said. About a year later, it moved to 118 Main St., and shortly after that, the bank that was located next door moved across the street and Silk Purse joined the two spaces to become the large store it is today.

Widmann, an 85-year-old Norwalk resident, said the store's best years were between the 1980s and 2008. "Those were very good years," she said.

The store's most profitable section, according to Widmann, is the jewelry counter.

"Our jewelry department has held up," she said. "We're still having very good jewelry sales, and silver, and small things. But furniture is not (selling well)."

Widmann said the new generations generally are not looking for consignment services.

Tucker Murphy, the Chamber of Commerce's executive director, agreed, saying the consignment business is no longer as popular as it used to be because people either buy and sell antiques on craigslist or just are not as interested in antiques.

Parks, a resident of East Hampton, N.Y., has been to Silk Purse every time she's in Connecticut visiting her friend Hope Frank, of Darien.

"I always make a trip here," Parks said. "I've gotten lots of jewelry. I've gotten diamond earrings, rings, gold with precious stones, necklaces, bronze sculptures, tables, chairs."

Frank said she's been a customer since the 1970s and considers the shop an institution in New Canaan.

"We've shopped here forever. I think it's a fantastic store to have in a community like this," Frank said. "This is just like an old shoe. You would just come here and you're sort of drawn to it.

"It's part of the community," she continued. "You can't come in here without running into somebody you know. Everybody stops and shops here."

Frank noted that Silk Purse's customers include many who are visiting New Canaan from different towns and states and end up coming back. "And it's not just a one-shot wonder," she said. "It's going to be missed by many, many people."

Parks said she definitely will be one of those people.

"There's nothing like this," she said. "They're such good buyers. They had such unique merchandise and so original. ... Just the combination of what they have and their inventory is so interesting and also affordable."

Parks also said the employees are "characters."

"They're so professional, but at the same time, you feel like you're coming to see a friend," she said.

One of the store's eight employees is Shirley Tanner, who's been working at Silk Purse for about 40 years.

"It's been a great run," Tanner said. "It's been fun. I've really enjoyed it."

The shop is no longer taking any consignments and Widmann is urging consignors to pick up their merchandise by Aug. 31, or at the very latest Sept. 15. After that, she said she'd start donating them.

Murphy said Silk Purse will be missed by the business community.

"It's disappointing for us that they have to close their doors," she said. "We're obviously very sad. They were always very involved and great supporters of the town."

On the other hand, Murphy said, the chamber is looking forward to bringing in a new business "that will be an asset to the community.

"I guess that's the only choice we have," she said. "I hope that we can get someone who can stay for another 41 years."

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson