Housatonic Trading Co. Mixes Eras, Prices And Caffeine
By Lisa Green
How would you feel if visitors to your art studio noticed your personal antiques collection hanging around and wanted to buy pieces right out from under you?
I might be a little annoyed, but Litchfield residents Robert Graham [left] and Robert Deyber, God bless them, are not only more magnanimous than I am, but entrepreneurial as well. Their private collection became the genesis of the Housatonic Trading Company, a 3,600-square-foot former carriage factory built in 1876 in Bantam, CT just down the road from Litchfield, that now is filled with antique, vintage and modern items.
Their original stash, which they’d been collecting for years, had to be moved out of their circa 1776 home during renovations. That’s how it ended up in Deyber’s painting studio (which Graham managed), later transitioning to their first retail operation, The White Room Art & Antiques. They soon outgrew the space, and two years ago moved operations to the stately brick building on Bantam Road.
The inventory ranges from consigned goods to antiquities, jewelry, furniture, art and sculpture. Gifty items, like candles, bath and body products and home fragrances, get special positioning on the center table at the front of the store. Eclectic is an adjective that seems overused these days, but it really fits here; you might be looking at a primitive painting sitting on an industrial end table. Or a sideboard with a distressed finish might be topped by a limited edition print. Kitschy tin signs bump up next to leather chairs. Chandeliers and banners hang from the ceiling. Price points range from a couple of dollars to five figures. It’s hard to know what’s vintage or modern or a true antique. And that’s what makes shopping there so fun.
“We have a large local following,” says Graham, who manages Housatonic Trading Company’s retail showroom. “It’s steady in the winter; people know they’ll find new things every time they come.” The website reflects the changing inventory, and supports a brisk mail order business with customers from throughout the world. The enterprise is busy enough to support five full-time employees.
“When I did my reports for 2014, I discovered we’d sold 22,000 items. In one year! I couldn’t believe it,” Graham says, going on to describe the treasures he’d just picked up from a few local estates. He brought more than 1,000 items back to the store, including an 18th-century loom that will be dismantled and repurposed into a piece of furniture. (At eight feet or so wide, it doesn’t exactly fall into the functional and utilitarian furniture category that people go for, he says.)
Of course, it helps that the store has its own in-house café. Located at the back of the store, Café 202 fills a void; two local cafes recently closed, leaving residents a sorry lack of caffeine stations.
“I’m a coffee aficionado and there suddenly was no good place to get a cup of coffee,” Graham says, “so we decided to open up our own.” Café 202 serves an exclusive dark blend from Saccuzzo Coffee in Newington, CT and offers bakery items from Ovens of France in Woodbury. Also on the menu are teas, frappes and fresh fruit smoothies. It’s a calm, comforting space, and instead of being schooled on where the coffee beans come from, you get to sit amidst the merchandise. There’s the requisite wi-fi, and sometimes live music.
Photo courtesy Housatonic Trading Company
On a recent snowy Saturday, Graham was surprised by the amount of traffic coming through the door. But the refreshed inventory, wi-fi, a good strong cup of coffee and an affable shopkeeper (and, not unimportant, plenty of parking) is a combination that makes the Housatonic Trading Company an ideal place to while away a wintry day.
Housatonic Trading Company & Café 202
920 Bantam Road, Bantam, CT
Open daily (except Wednesday), 9 a.m.—5 p.m.