Business is meant to be competitive. Climb to the top. Be the best. Yet, a cadre of local shops that have opened or relocated in the past few years are finding success by relying on one another. Each boasts its own unique flare and attracts its own loyal clientele, which includes owners of nearby shops. For these businesswomen who are boosting the local economy, the door is always open—for shopping, business advice, emotional support and sharing a few good laughs. They have an equal passion for creativity, for Fairfield and for the rewards of entrepreneurship. Support is both big and small—but, most important, consistent. For example, Fresh Flower Bar delivers bouquets to the shop No. 299 every week and kindred spirits, Saltwater and Swim N’ Surf, take each other’s coffee orders.
They also agree on the small-business boom in town. “I think that in the past few years the downtown scene in Fairfield has gone from zero to sixty,” says Jackie Fucigna, who has owned store No. 299 on Unquowa Road since 2014. “It’s on fire! I like to think that all of the female-run boutiques have something to do with that. I feel incredibly proud to be a part of the female-led movement.”
ONE FOR ALL
The secret to their success is that they lift up one another. They believe that as one store does well, so do the others—and they’re being proactive about fostering it. Recently, a group of women owners got together to come up with ways to boost local shopping. “It’s always helpful to brainstorm and share ideas with other female shop owners,” says Jackie.
Chris O’Shea, owner of Driftwood Farmhouse, agrees. “As a woman business owner, I feel especially motivated to support other women-owned businesses, both in my community and the vendors that I buy from. When gifts have a story, such as being made by a women’s collective that helps employ women from around the world, it makes us so much more excited to support them. We buy many of these products, and we try to create a global community of women-owned businesses right within our doors.” She opened her store on the Post Road this past summer, after fifteen years of running her own business online. “I have always committed myself to employing other women, teaching them about the business and acting as a mentor for them to go on and start their own dreams.”
Having moved from the hip neighborhood of Chelsea to Fairfield, Chris’s first passion project involved bringing a New York staple to town: Art Walk. From last June to September, it ran in conjunction with the Town of Fairfield Office of Community and Economic Development and with the support of artists and local restaurants. “I felt very strongly that the Art Walk would bring not only art lovers to town, but also potential customers for all of our mutual female-owned businesses. It very much did!”
Some owners note an upsurge in local shopping, which they believe is because of, in part, the addition of women-owned stores. “There is such a wonderful rejuvenation going on in downtown Fairfield right now. It has become a true shopping destination in Fairfield County, which is due to the resurgence of the small, local businesses, many of these being started by women,” says Jessica Sokol, co-owner, with Sarah McBrair, of Saltwater, a mommy-and-me boutique that opened in 2017. “Traditionally, women have been pitted against one another in business, but the current climate in downtown Fairfield is completely the opposite. We’ve realized that when one of us does well, it supports the economic environment of the town as a whole and gives us all a boost. Fairfield becomes more of a shopping destination, so people start to shop locally rather than constantly resorting to the ease of online shopping. The women business owners have caught onto this and have truly adopted the community-over-competition morale.”
Vanessa Lewis of the newly opened Penfield Collective, also on the Post Road, agrees. “We build up the other businesses in town,” she explains. “Each store has its own perfectly curated offering. Our collections complement one another.” She should know what works together—her store offers a fresh and fun collection of fashion.
In Fairfield’s game of musical chairs, everyone gets a seat. Vanessa Lewis moved Penfield Collective into the space vacated by her friend Sandra Halstead. Sandra’s shop, Beehive—which offers gifts, jewelry, clothing and all things for home, baby and stylish living—is both established and new. It opened in 2013, and this year relocated and reopened in a larger space. Beehive now has an expanded shopping selection as well as a new design-services studio. Sandra also brought on board business partner Lesley Collins, who shares her love for Fairfield and her entrepreneurial spirit.
“There’s so much female-led empowerment and support in our community, and we are all about that,” says Sandra. “We both would love to get to a place in our society where we don’t necessarily feel the need to define and differentiate between female- and male-owned businesses. We like to say, there’s no such thing as a ‘girl boss.’ We’re just bosses, and we want our next generation to know there isn’t a difference.”
Sandra opened up space in Beehive to Mary Thornton. It was a win-win. Both share a similar style and have launched businesses. Mary founded Party Party, a stationery and gift store, on Sanford Street in 2010 and adds that part of the new wave of success is because owners live locally. “So many towns are full of chain stores, but Fairfield is unique in that there are so many of us who are residents as well as shop owners,” she says. “Retail brings retail.”
Party Party’s move freed up a location downtown for Carrie Bocian to open her shoe shop, ideally called The Perfect Pair. Being the new kid on the block, she says, “Opening a shoe boutique has always been a dream of mine. There’s such a wonderful community of strong savvy businesswomen downtown. It’s an honor to be a part of this transformation.”
PUTTING IN THE HOURS
Newly opened stores can expect to find themselves up against neighboring stores that are long established and boast long-time loyal clientele and well-earned reputations. In Fairfield, those prominent boutiques include shopping landmarks La Moda, Snappy Gator, Apricot Lane, Henry C. Reid, Capri and Island Outfitters. The store owners find a niche, provide mutual support, live locally—and, of course, work hard.
“We put in the hours to try to make our stores unique and special,” remarks Kathryn Kirton of Swim ’N Surf, which has been a popular cornerstone in the swimwear business of Fairfield since opening in 2005. “Hearing our customers come in and say, ‘We love your store’ or ‘We try to always shop locally’ really warms our heart. It is very easy to shop online or shop chain stores, but shopping in our stores really does support the community—and, as a whole, it keeps downtown alive.”
Sarah O’Brien at Fresh Flower Bar concludes by saying, “We constantly strive to achieve a healthy balance between our business and our personal lives. We are wives, mothers, sisters and daughters with tremendous demands on our time. We live half our life dedicated to running a successful business, and the other half being with family and raising our children. We are multifaceted people, with many roles to play. We are passionate about achieving our goals across all aspects of our life. Personally, I want to demonstrate to my children how important it is to follow your dreams. I want my daughter to believe that she can do anything she wants.”
The next generation of Fairfielders will certainly have plenty of role models to emulate.