New Energy in Washington
The word is that Connecticut is economically stagnant, that businesses can’t survive here. But don’t tell that to the Town of Washington.
The town, which comprises the hamlets of Washington Depot, New Preston, Marbledale, and Woodville, has languished for a number of years but now a new energy is afoot.
“Amazing things have been happening,” says Mark Lyon, first selectman of Washington. “Many businesses, new and old, have been taking a proactive stance in staging and promoting local events and it’s really starting to show.”
Prior to the most recent growth in the retail landscape, a development took place that began the town’s transformation. The former Vinnie’s Texaco Station occupied a prominent corner in the center of Washington Depot and for several years sat empty—an eyesore in the heart of the Depot. In 2013 a small group led by four local businesspeople, Michael Ackerman, Barbara Bouyea, Peter Talbot and Denise Trevenen and local visionary John Millington, shared their dream of purchasing the site and creating a park, an events space and a vibrant community hub.
Local donors generously supported the idea, particularly Judy Black, a long-time Litchfield County resident who made a large contribution. Upon Ms. Black’s death, the space was officially renamed The Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens. It has now recognized as the premier local venue for exhibits and other happenings.
The Depot’s landscape is still dotted by stalwarts such as the Hickory Stick Bookshop, owned and operated by Fran and Michael Keilty, Washington Supply, The Pantry and Marty’s Café. These businesses have persevered and attracted shoppers during the slow times, but now are now joined by a flurry of new businesses.
KMR Arts, another stalwart that has weathered the recession, continues to celebrate photographers and selected artists. It was opened on Titus Road 10 years ago by owner Kathryn McCarver Root, in a location slightly off-the-beaten path, but in 2017 she welcomed a new neighbor—George Home. There Bruce Glickman and Wilson Henley of Duane in Manhattan and Betsey Nestler, a local dealer and style maker, created a shop of mid-century modern, antique, and contemporary furniture as well as objects, art, accessories, lighting and a wide range of unique tabletop.
The former Woodruff Garage on Titus Road has been reincarnated and is home to Byrde + the b, a stylish hair salon. In addition to beauty treatments and hair design, the salon doubles as an emporium of original paintings, selected porcelain and ceramics from Sweden, Denmark and Germany and exotic jewelry and objects from Marrakech.
Valley Spirit Cooperative & Wellness Center, conceived by Kristin Kunhardt, has joined the mix as well. The shared studio space includes unique businesses with a common goal, offering services, teachings and products that support healing and growth, enhancing awareness, peace and good health.
Among the recent additions to the retail mix, located next door to each other, are Mis en Scène, opened by Claire Maestroni and Giorgio Stefano Maroulis, and The Hen’s Nest, owned by Ellen Prindle.
Maestroni and Maroulis are European designers who focus on craftsmanship, working with a group of talented artisans specializing in a specific trade and offering a unique product. In addition to their retail endeavor, they offer their Turnkey Concept that can supply realtors with all their staging needs.
The Hen's Nest is a gallery currently representing more than 40 artists and artisans from Litchfield County and beyond. In addition to fine art, Prindle offers a wide array of other art forms including jewelry, finely turned wooden vessels, hand-woven goods, pottery for the kitchen as well as objects for the mantelpiece.
But the Washington Depot renaissance is more than just new retail and art venues. The Washington Art Association, a 50-year-old institution, has totally refurbished its building and has been responsible for many significant art experiences, including the WAA Sculpture Walk, orchestrated by artist Barbara Talbot and sculptor Mark Mennin. Pieces by many well-known artists and sculptors were located around the Green, allowing viewers to enjoy the scenery while viewing the art. Thanks to state grant, the town plaza was redone and the new Titus Park created.
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