NORWICH — Downtown Norwich is getting a new store. Ashby Ann, located at 24 South Broad Street, will officially open its doors at 10 a.m. on Thursday, April 28. From there, hours of operation will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Norwich residents may remember the store as Arnell Music, which occupied the same place for several years. While the history of the space is still evident, owner Kirstin Vidler-Mackey said it's gone through lots of renovations over the past month to get it ready for opening day.
"My husband redid the whole thing, from the floor up. He did an amazing job," she said. "He wasn’t experienced whatsoever, and YouTube and everything just helped him through everything. It was fabulous. And we did it over the course of a month: we completely gutted it, painted the walls, the ceiling. They had a drop ceiling in here so we had to take all that down, and then we redid all the lighting."
The result is a rustic yet industrial aesthetic, with most of the decor, fixtures, and products made of organic materials such as wood and metal.
"It’s coming together. There’s some more stuff I want to do, but I can do that along the way. I want to add some more stuff, I want wheels that go all the way up to the ceiling," said Vidler-Mackey, gesturing to the metal and wood wheels placed on one wall. "I just think it adds more dimension. It’s cool, it’s industrial. I have a big industrial fan that I’ve ordered."
"I want to go more organic and earthy, you know? Like, no BPAs and all wooden stuff, no noise stuff, no batteries. Keep everything a little more earthy, organic. Bring it back to our roots because that didn’t fail. That was the good stuff, when we were kids," she added, speaking of the products in stock.
Items for sale range from children's clothes and toys, journals, shaving supplies, spice and herb blends, home decor, leather goods, soaps, and much more. Due to the wide range of products, Vidler-Mackey said Ashby Ann can serve as a "one-stop shop" that has "something for everybody."
"What I was really going for, because I’m a mom, is the mom who needs to shop and shop fast. Because we know at Christmas time it is crazy and you don’t have time to go to 50 different stores," she said. "So you literally can come here and get something for your kid, come here and get something for your mom, or sister, or whoever, and then you get something for your husband, and it’s all right here and you don’t have to go anywhere else."
Vidler-Mackey said she focuses on supporting other small businesses, and even commissioned New Berlin crafter Ben French and local metalworker Cory Marshman to make furniture and decor for the shop. She is also striving to line her store shelves with locally made goods.
"I only have a few real mainstream lines. Everything else is ma and pa. Like, the husband and wife that sit at home, I sought after those guys," she explained. "I’d rather push the small business than the mainstream, because they’re already huge, and sometimes they're not better. I just tried to stick with oddity stuff ... I just wanted to bring a different kind of flair, if you will, to Norwich."
Quality is also an important component, and Vidler-Mackey said she strives to sell items that will hold up with time and use.
"Everything in here, I’ve used. So I can stand behind it. Whereas a lot of places, they just sell it because it's got the name brand on it. I don’t care about your name brand. I want to know if it’s functional, if it’s going to wash well, if I can get my money’s worth," said Vidler-Mackey. "I’m in for the longevity of stuff."
Local creators who are interested in selling their products at Ashby Ann can reach out to Vidler-Mackey through the store's Facebook or Instagram page, which are expected to go live this weekend.
The store follows a consignment model, where sellers can add, pull, or replace products as they choose. When an item sells, Vidler-Mackey said it will be recorded for the seller, and she will take a percentage of the sale.
"That way it’s easier, I think, because you’re going to make more money because you can change out [products]," she explained. "Say this isn’t selling. You can change it out to something that is going to sell, or is selling like hotcakes. Instead of me buying something and not selling, and then not buying again because nothing’s selling. So I like doing it that way a lot better."
However, Ashby Ann is not just a place to shop. The store will also be used as a gathering place for community members of all ages, through mom's night out events and children's book readings.
"I have a couple friends that I’m working with for the mom’s support group ... They’re like, oh that’s a great idea to do it in not a stuffy environment, if you will. More of a relaxed environment where, yes, you can have a glass of wine, you can have a cup of coffee, you can have snacks, and it’s just kind of like relax time or vent time or whatever you want to do," said Vidler-Mackey. "Our idea is to go not only here, but to touch more people and families and everything else, and just kind of expand on that."
She said another way she hopes to help out the community is by offering occasional early or late hours for busy parents or those who get out of work late, and even private shopping opportunities.
"I know with the whole COVID thing too, a lot of people don’t want to be out in crowds and they’d rather do a private shopping. So I’m totally willing to open the store up early an hour, or lock the door, and then you have your private hour or whatever you need," she continued. "I’d rather have people comfortable than be afraid to come in."
The name Ashby Ann also serves as a testament to Vidler-Mackey's grandmothers, Joan Ashby-Vidler and Beverly Ann Striker. Vidler-Mackey described them as "strong women" who "brought up strong women," and who taught her to chase her dreams and work hard to reach them.
"They were like the matriarchs of our family," she said. "I want to dedicate this towards them, because I feel that if it weren’t for them maybe I wouldn’t have pushed myself even harder to go outside the box. Because Grandma Bev would be like, come on, get up and do it. You’ve just got to do it."
Vidler-Mackey said she is excited for opening day, and hopes the store will serve the community both as a place to shop and a place to gather.
"I don’t care if you shop. You want to come in here and have a coffee with me? We’ve got a two-top right here, girl! Come in and have a cup of coffee, kick your feet up," she said. "I miss that. I just wanted people to feel comfortable."
"Just bring back some good, because we need some good ... It's not just a shop, it's supporting each other."