If you’re opening a new retail store in town, you know you’re on the right track when almost 500 Wilton residents help you come up with the name of the store.

That’s what happened when Wiltonians Peter Finnie and Beth Bernier Montford asked for help from the community via social media for suggestions on what to name the store they will be opening in Wilton Center next month. The concept is a mix of leather handbags and designer shoes and boots (Finnie’s business), hand-designed jewelry (Bernier Montford’s  business) and artistic, locally-sourced, one-of-a-kind items that will be sold on a rotating, co-operative basis by visiting vendors.

The winning name for the store was Local Soul.

“People are really excited. I’ll be at spin class and people will ask, ‘When is it opening? When is it opening?’ The same with Peter’s wife, Leslie, who teaches [swimming] at the Wilton Y, everyone is asking her about it,” Bernier Montford says, amazed.

The idea for this kind of store was sparked thanks to the much-loved, semi-annual shoe and boot sample sale that Finnie runs in Wilton. Typically he held the sale in his cramped, former office around the back of the Piersall Building, behind Pinocchio Pizza. But this past spring he opened it as a pop-up shop instead, temporarily renting a vacant space right on Center Street, above Old Post Office Square. “We started talking about doing a more permanent pop-up shop with other people,” says Finnie, “and that’s how we got here.”

“Here” is a bright, cozy space they found on the lower level of the Barringer Building, next door to Scoops, looking out onto Village Market. They’re still putting the finishing touches on setting everything up, preparing for a soft opening on Saturday, Oct. 29, for the Wilton Center Halloween Trick-or-Treat walk. But it’s already got the flavor of a charming, niche retail business that’s ready to welcome anyone who pops in.

local-soul-outside

The two permanent categories people will find in the store are shoes, boots and handbags from Finnie, and Bernier Montford’s line of handmade, sea glass jewelry that she designs under the name Wilton Artisans. (People may know her better under her previous name, Beth Crowell, which she changed when she recently remarried.)

They’ve contracted with other vendors, artists and designers–many of them local–to sell in the store with a variety of other apparel, accessory and gift items. But, says Finnie, they want everything the store carries to “have its own story.” “We’re bringing in handmade items, one-of-a-kind items, things made locally by local people with a lot of soul, history and talent.”

Shoppers will find Vagabond’s Daughter handmade batik scarves by Wilton artist Nancy Ganey; Wilton resident Emmy Starr‘s jewelry; accessories from another Wiltonian, Andrea McLaughlin; photography and cards from Wilton photographer Pam Rouleau; ceramics from Jon Puzzuoli, who heads up ceramics education at Silvermine Arts Center; men’s gifts; handmade felt ornaments; handmade chocolates; candles; items for dogs; and more.

“We’re doing things a little bit edgier, with one-of-a-kind pieces. There are great, great things here. We found this woman who makes these adorable dog beds from repurposed furniture. We also have a couple girls in Wilton High School who make jewelry, they’re very talented, we’re going to be showing their things here. We really want to capitalize on local artists. We want to make it a fun environment for people to come in and take a look around,” says Finnie, who adds, “Part of the business is an evolution, for us to find out what people are interested in, but we have so many people waiting in line to show in here.”

They will even have refurbished furniture as fixtures around the store, much of which is for sale. “It’s going to be evolving. It’s a real eclectic mix of local people with talent, and it keeps it fresh for the town because they’ll never know what’s going to be in here and what they’ll find,” Bernier Montford says.

One other area they want to expand is by bringing in some men’s items and accessories, which is a category they feel is underrepresented in Wilton’s current retail stores–things like cufflinks, handmade leather wallets and colorful socks. “If they’re looking for a gift for a man, we’d love people to be able to come here as opposed to going to neighboring towns,” she adds.

Both retailers and Wilton’s Economic Development Commission have said that Wilton shoppers love to support local merchants but they are also very price conscious. It’s something both Finnie and Bernier Montford are very aware of.

“We recognize that and we’re not trying to be high, high end, and instead trying to reach that middle ground where we can offer really nice items at a fair price that are different,” Bernier Montford notes.

For Finnie, who has always been known as the sample sale guy, where prices are slashed to wholesale, it’s new territory. “We’re not going to be full retail, but we’re not going to be full wholesale.”

For both business owners, they’re looking forward to making it a vital, vibrant part of the community, and are thrilled about the response they’re already getting.

“I love it because we live in Wilton and it’s so nice how people genuinely are so excited about it. There’s so much talent here in Wilton, and so many people who are interested in showcasing their work and in supporting local stores,” says Bernier Montford, who also acknowledges that not only have they gotten support from other Wilton retailers, it also involves Local Soul supporting other merchants too.

“Even among business owners in town trying to help each other. Not compete–we don’t want to compete, we really want to complement other businesses, that was really important to us. We didn’t want to compete with [nearby stores] Signature Style or B-Chic, but we wanted to do belt buckles to complement B-Chic so we could send people to them. Which is cool–people already leave town to shop, the goal was to try to give them someplace here that they could find something for themselves or a gift.”

They’re also really looking forward to getting to interact with customers day to day, and becoming even more invested within the Wilton community by meeting new people–even as both of them are long-time Wilton residents.

“Through the sample sales it’s been really interesting meeting all these people I had never met before.  It makes you realize how you’re part of a community,” says Finnie–something they hope people will feel in return for Local Soul.

“We want people to feel like it’s part of the community and their store. Our store is their store,” he says.

Seems like Wilton chose the right name for this store after all.

Local Soul is located at 90 Old Ridgefield Rd., on the lower level of the Barringer Building in Wilton Center.