Sep 16, 2013
08:39 AMStyle & Design
At Mill House Antiques & Gardens in Woodbury, a Collector is Now the Owner
Five years ago William Hildreth possessed an above-average ability to spot and buy premium antiques. As for selling antiques, that was totally foreign to him.
But, for an avid collector of precious European items, how difficult could the transition be, to move from one side of the shop counter to the other? Owning and operating an antiques store is largely about acquiring the most suitable vintage pieces to sell, so even for a man that had no small business experience the segue should have been relatively seamless.
Then about six months after he and his wife, Diana, purchased Mill House Antiques & Gardens in the northern end of Woodbury, about six months after he made a brave leap from corporate America to become a small-town shopkeeper, and about six months after he moved with his wife and two children from Bethel to a storefront that doubles as a home on Main Street North, the economy came crumbling down.
“We’ve been under stress for five years, ever since the Great Recession, as I call it, started,” said Mr. Hildreth, a native of Maryland. “I’d say there is a very strong correlation between my industry and consumer confidence.”
He shared this thought while stepping through his store, which intentionally was given a tasteful homestead interior decor. It has such a domestic veneer, with its finely aged dining room tables and chairs, grandfather clocks, dressers and artwork, one would almost think the Hildreth family lives in the store, not above it.
Regardless of the stress, he and his family are making it work, despite a business climate that definitely does not favor his industry.
Going suddenly from a flat, frictionless fiscal terrain to an economic thicket of woe and uncertainty would seem prime to undermine his and his wife’s, confidence. Turning their interest in antiques into a full-time career and lifestyle was ill-timed, and their crash course in boutique shop ownership brought a sharp learning curve.
“I felt sorry for him,” said David Veselsky, a 45-year veteran of the industry who sold Mr. Hildreth the place in 2008, about the crash. “But he’s done a very good job. He’s still there and maintained quality. How many other shops in New England have closed?”
The situation could have left Mr. Hildreth totally demoralized. But he sees it a little more positively. If anything, he believes the timing was ideal.