Open House succeeds, supports community

In 1983, the late Patty Perry first opened the Open House Gift Shop for business in Wilton Center. Thirty years later, her son Brian Perry continues her tradition of providing the Wilton community with a locally owned, one-of-a-kind shopping destination.

He’s quick to note, however, his business’s success would quickly evaporate without the touch of store managers Karen Turner and Nancy Toothaker, and “back office” manager Leslie Hueglin.

“I have to organize and run the whole entity,” Mr. Perry said, “but I also have to know how to get out of my managers’ way. I give them the authority and flexibility to be productive, and to make the shop look as good as it does.”

Some of his staff work two afternoons a week, while others work every day. For those workers, the ability to “be there for my kids, to see their sport matches” and still work at something worthwhile is indispensable, Ms. Hueglin said. “It’s like the other side of retail therapy.”

Mr. Perry decided to take over ownership of the store after he saw its employees’ willingness to help his mother through difficult bouts of cancer. As he was working in Chicago at the time, it was often difficult for him to help with the little things, like driving her around town, or to Norwalk Hospital.

He saw her employees going out of their way to help Ms. Perry through her illness, and realized he couldn’t let her shop close following her death. He moved back to Wilton and dedicated himself to ensuring its continuing success in dedication to her hard work, and her employees’ selflessness.

The variety and unique nature of its products has given Open House the ability to succeed in Wilton over the past 30 years, during which time the shop has expanded twice.

“We offer merchandise that simply cannot be purchased in the big box retailers,” Ms. Toothaker said. “You can’t find it in Macy’s or Target. People come here because we have gifts for everything, from an inexpensive teacher’s gift to a beautiful wedding present.”

Some of the most popular items in the store include an extensive collection of Vera Bradley accessories, and Herend dinnerware.

The staff tries hard to “look for the ‘made in the USA’ sticker” when it comes to selecting their high-quality products, Ms. Toothaker said. Mr. Perry added they are always on the lookout for Connecticut- and Wilton-made products, as well.

“At least one or two local artists are featured in our store every year,” Mr. Perry said. “A lot of times they come to us when they’re just starting off and looking for support. We give them a little table, and many of them have gone on to become very successful.”

The shop’s personal service, Ms. Turner said, also plays a large role in the continuing success of the shop.

“After working here for a number of years, a relationship with the customers really starts to build up,” she said. “You start to understand what’s going on in their life, and they know what’s going on in yours. We get to celebrate with them.”

Ms. Toothaker herself first became a customer at the shop 30 years ago, and said she is not the only longtime shopper.

“We’ve had quite a history,” she said, “and many of our customers go back through that whole history.”

Important to this sense of service is the staff’s dedication to the Wilton community. Mr. Perry and his managers are all members of Wilton organizations and charities, and regularly support various entities through different initiatives.

“We could automate a ton of things, but, no thanks,” Mr. Perry said. “There is some new here, there is some old here, but what is most important is to be a part of the community. So many people here do this for a portion of the week, but everyone else does something for the community” from helping Minks to Sinks, to sitting on the board of the Ogden House, he said.

“We support almost anybody looking for a direct donation — for silent auctions or other things,” Ms. Turner said. “We also offer shopping days, where a portion of that day’s proceeds go to a charity like Relay for Life, or the Ogden House.”

Open House also provides hand delivery services to Wilton, and Ms. Turner will “even make a trip to Ridgefield,” she said. In addition, they offer a local bridal registry service that gives wedding guests the opportunity to “come in and pick out something very special for the bride a groom.”