Diane and Lenny Chapman, along with their neighbors and partners JoAnn and David Manning, have opened Chapman’s Antiques in Town at the corner of West Main Street and Ray Hill. The antique shop is located in the space that had been occupied by Down in the Valley for decades. Over the past several weeks, Lenny Chapman and Dave Manning have been at work transforming the interior of the former clothing shop. Gone are the racks and shelves, replaced by stained wood walls and antiques. And there’s more light – Chapman and Manning found a window on the east side of the building overlooking Dot’s that had been covered up for years. They also extended the sales floor into the back of the building, which had apparently been used as a stockroom.
The Chapmans and Mannings say the location was perfect for them, and they think it’s also perfect for the continued revitalization of the town.
“We always toyed with the idea of an antique store,” says David Manning, “and after the storm, this place became available.”
“And we wanted to give something back to the community,” says JoAnn Manning. “We’ve been welcomed here.”
In many ways, the new shop is a community project. In addition to the investment and work the Chapmans and Mannings have put into the business, they also received a grant from the Wilmington Fund VT. “And we also got some of our materials from Cameron (Ranslow) at Wilmington Home Center, who gave us a good deal,” says JoAnn Manning. Diane Chapman says it was Janet Boyd who initially connected them with the building, and Dick Sprague who has done some of the interior painting.
The new store is, in many ways, an extension of Chapman’s Antique Barn, located at the couple’s home in Medburyville, and many of the items in the store came from the barn. While furniture – from rocking chairs to an unusual US Post Office piece with lots of polished wood and rows of mail slots – dominates the salesroom floor now, the Chapmans and Mannings say they’re planning to fill the place up with smaller items.
Diane and Lenny Chapman say the new store not only provides a downtown outlet for their barn, which is closed during winter months, it also serves as a “feeder” for the barn business. “We’ve already directed a lot of people to the barn who have stopped in here,” Lenny Chapman says.
Diane Chapman says the barn, with two floors filled with antiques, is the largest barn they know of in Windham County. “And Lenny measures,” she laughs. “If we happen to go by a barn that might be a contender, he’ll stop and measure it.” The Mannings, who retired to Wilmington from London, England, have also added some variety to the mix of merchandise with antiques collected at auctions in the United Kingdom and shipped to the United States. For the past several years, some of their English antiques have been on consignment at Chapman’s Antique Barn.
Although the shop is dominated by New England-style antiques, the Chapmans and Mannings travel far and wide to obtain a variety of items. “We have family in Texas,” David Manning says, “and we have some stuff we bought in Texas shipped here. The logistics in the US are brilliant.”
And there are also items that have been “repurposed” by the proprietors, like Lenny Chapman’s glass-topped sleigh coffee table, and David Manning’s glass-topped chicken cage table. The shop also takes items on consignment.
Despite the short time the shop has been open, since last Saturday, the reception has been good. Diane Chapman says some local residents have gone out of their way to thank them for opening the shop. JoAnn Manning has also heard encouraging comments. “All of the feedback has been very positive,” she says.
The variety of items may be a key to success for an antique shop. David Manning jokes that the item he thinks will sell quickly often sits on the shelf for a long time, and the thing he thinks will never sell disappears in an instant. But he says a lot of sales are to people who collect things connected to their own interests. “Over the weekend we sold a cigar-maker’s mold,” he says, speculating that the owner may have had an interest in cigars.
The top selling items seem to be things connected to New England life. “Earthenware jugs, skis, snowshoes, small sleighs, things like that.”
“We hope to bring in some Vermont products around Christmas time,” says JoAnn Manning.
“Things nobody else is already selling,” Lenny Chapman adds. “We don’t want to compete with other people in town. Everybody has to make a living.”