New York Times, February
Property/New Jersey; Stores That Look Like Homes, For Very Good
By ANTOINETTE MARTIN
YOU are about to be greeted by Daisy, says the note
over the door handle. She is noisy but harmless.
And sure enough, crossing the threshold of the sweet Victorian
at 350 Center Avenue in Westwood brings a barking innocuous dog
to the door. In every other way, though, this house is not what
it looks like: it is a shop, not a home, for one thing. Yet it
is homey -- particularly if you're a girl, or her mother.
Daisy & Lilly is designed to be both shop and habitat for girls
ages 7 to 15, according to its proprietors, Digna Rodriguez-Poulton
and Simon Poulton -- a place where girls not only buy clothes
and earrings and lip gloss, but can just hang out with mothers
or friends in tow and feel surrounded by an aura of hipness
and friendliness at the same time, said Ms. Rodriguez-Poulton.
For our store, she added, we really wanted to
find a space that was something other than 'the box.' Like
other small-scale destination retailers -- shops that
seek customers willing to make a trip to visit them -- the couple
who run Daisy & Lilly deliberately chose an old house on a suburban
side street for their store's home. They avoided the hassle of
getting their idea past town planners by finding a house that
was already situated in a mixed-use zone.
Three years ago, the couple sold their home in Ridgewood, downsized
to a condo and put the proceeds toward leasing and helping to
pay to rehabilitate the house on Center Avenue, which had been
broken up into apartments. Working with the building's owner,
Bruce Meisel, who owns considerable retail property in downtown
Westwood, they turned the three-story structure into two stories,
widened the side-entry staircase and installed a prominent first-floor
bay window, which became Daisy's daytime perch.
The Rodriguez-Poultons, retailers who say they have an instinctive
love of storytelling, wrote a tale called The Legend of
Daisy & Lilly about the creation of the store, their Jack
Russell terrier who serves as its mascot (and her fictive daughter,
Lilly) and the tight friendship of a group of girls who learn
about fashion and have adventures at the shop. The legend
is displayed on a floor-to-ceiling mural mounted just inside the
Stores in houses have much stronger personalities,
asserts Patti Cain, who bought a 200-year-old farmhouse
at 106 Pompton Avenue in Cedar Grove to establish Gypsy
Farmhouse Antiques, where she sells Amish furniture; ethnic
gewgaws like mirrored scarfs from Mexico; vintage textiles;
and architectural salvage pieces like cornices, lintels
and fireplace mantels.
I was searching for a house, Ms. Cain said,
because that allows you to sell anything fun and
different. She bought the vacant 40-by-40-foot house
set on the side of a hill in 1999 and spent the better
part of a year getting it into shape. The prodigious stock
at the store now seems to nearly burst it at the seams
-- a large Virgin Mary statue on the fireplace mantel
beneath a row of crocheted potholders, shutters in the
tub, Amish carved and painted doors stacked up in the
kitchen -- and Ms. Cain is planning an addition.
She would never consider decamping, Ms. Cain said. This
house is perfect for my store, she said. I
get a lot of young couples out of New York City, people
who don't want the typical cookie-cutter feeling in their
apartments. Because we're located in a house, they can
hold a pair of shutters up to the windows to see how they
look. Or they can check out how some Amish linens and
embroidered pillows look on the bed in the upstairs bedroom.
People linger, she said. They get ideas,
and then spend some time figuring out how to make them
work, and it's a fun experience for all of us. In
the summer, she hosts antique shows in the backyard and
sells homemade lemonade and shoo-fly pies, the traditional
calorie-laden Amish dessert.
In rural Mendham, on the other side of Morristown from a vast
wooded park and rolling hills, JoEllen Rubolotta says operating
her jewelry store from part of a wing of a 135-year-old rehabbed
rambling house helps engender a following.
This is what I always wanted, Ms. Rubolotta said,
twirling around in her 913-square-foot shop at 2 Hilltop Road,
which occupies the first floor, with the former root cellar beneath
and a studio apartment above. I wanted a store that is charming
Such a berth does present a few limitations. JoEllen Jewelers
is not permitted to have a jeweler work on the premises, because
that would present fire danger to a historic structure, Ms. Rubolotta
said. The floor is so sloped in the room she uses as her office
that she sometimes feels a bit off kilter just walking to the
But the windowed front room -- the panes are original -- is an
ideal place to display jewelry, she said. In the interior room,
Ms. Rubolotta has set chairs around the fireplace, which was painted
a gaudy orange when she first saw it and is now a subdued brown.
Her frog collection, including dozens of bejeweled frog pins,
is displayed inside a curio table and in various niches around
Customers have to be buzzed in past the security door, Ms. Rubolotta
noted, so it is especially important to welcome them with a cozy
atmosphere, she said.
Ms. Rubolotta said she watched workers from a local company, Grant
Homes, every step of the way as they skinned the building, refashioned
interior details to her specification and burrowed into the stone
cellar to install a high-security alarm system.
At Daisy & Lilly, the basement is the business office, stockroom,
cafeteria (a microwave) and design center where Ms. Rodriguez-Poulton
is creating Cute Couture, a new line of clothing to
be marketed nationally next year. At the Gypsy Farmhouse, it is
just another showroom -- but the backyard is a big attraction
for customers. It is where garden furniture and accessories are
displayed year-round, and it serves as a place to sit and mull
The owners of shop-houses seem to take particular pride in interior
decorating. Ms. Cain painted each room in her house a different
color and hung pieces from her antique textile collection in the
windows along with showy Japanese obis and old prom dresses.
At Daisy & Lilly, Ms. Rodriguez-Poulton seems to have set the
paradigm for the perfect girl's bedroom. Her husband says he is
asked nearly once a week for the name and number of the blue shade
of Benjamin Moore paint on the walls (Aquarius blue, No. 788).
The seasonal decorations, glass baubles and beads hanging on ribbons
from the ceiling also sell like, well, shoo-fly pies on a summer
afternoon, Mr. Poulton said.
We are trying to create a lifestyle brand, his wife
said. We have fashioned the store as a place where a girl's
creativity is inspired and nurtured. The shop sells books
with such titles as The Greatness of Girls and Girl
Power in addition to cool clothes, and Ms. Rodriguez-Poulton
runs meetings with a devoted group of customers known as the GaGa
girls (Girls Academy of Good Advice) who do craft projects and
talk about fashion and life.
Teenagers only slightly older than the customers are among the
shop's employees. The idea is to offer a bit of mentoring in addition
to clothes that are stylish without overexposure,
as Ms. Rodriguez-Poulton puts it.
I think there is no better way of unleashing the girls than
surrounding them with a safe, stimulating environment, she
said. Everyone is well-behaved. No one spills their Coke.
They don't go barreling through the shop opening every lip gloss
-- which is good, because we have a lot of lip gloss.
Last year, the Rodriguez-Poultons tried to create a similar store
for women in an old house across the street, but that fizzled
within six months. I thought we would get all the mothers
of all the daughters, Mr. Poulton said. I don't quite
know why that didn't happen. What I do know is that the formula
here does work.
Daisy & Lilly opened in the aftermath of the September 2001 attack
in New York, he said, and the couple knew that all their effort
and dreams might go down in the economic spiral that followed.
But they came, he said. We had moms waiting
outside the door in the morning, and we had girls appearing at
the shop as soon as school let out. Within months, the store's
mailing list swelled to 2,500.
This winter, the weather has been generally unkind to retailers
dependent on side-street shoppers, he noted, and Daisy & Lilly
has suffered with the rest. Come spring, though, Mr.
Poulton said, we expect all our customers will be coming