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Home » SCIENCE AND NATURE » CONNECTICUT » The Connecticut Ecosystem
The Interior of Pergola, New Preston, Connecticut
The Connecticut Ecosystem

Part 3 - New Preston, Connecticut: Maintaining the Rural Village Center

By Mark B. Oliver | October 01, 2010

Previous Article in this Series

Forests, wildlife and water resources are integral parts of the ecosystem, but rural village centers are too.

New Preston Falls

Over the past several decades town and village Main Streets have come under increasing pressure from out of town developments.   Cheaper retail space and the economies of scale that come with nationwide chains, have made it increasingly difficult for local shops to compete and survive, let alone thrive.   This trend has accelerated as the recession has bitten into the pockets of shoppers and retailers alike.   While many store fronts across New England go empty, New Preston, a rural village in Litchfield County, Connecticut has bucked the nationwide trend by continuing to support a vibrant retail community.

New Preston village center is located just south of Lake Waramaug, a natural lake of approximately 680 acres which dominates the local landscape.   The lake attracts visitors from across the north-east and it drains southward into the East Aspetuck River which flows through the village center, breaking into a spectacular waterfall directly behind several stores.   A cider mill was located at the falls in the 19th century, harvesting the apples from the orchard that lined the river at that time.   While the orchard is long gone, the mill has been lovingly restored.

New Preston Kitchen Goods

Clearly, this is not your typical village center.   The geographical features alone set it apart and there is no supermarket, post office or drug store.   Instead, there are antique stores, an organic ‘market’ and a kitchen goods store amongst others.

While lunching nearby in 2002, Martin Rook and Richard Walgreen saw that the space occupied by the retiring pharmacist was for sale and thought that it would make an ideal investment property.   Martin picks up the story, “When I started to consider what business would complement the existing stores and appeal to the local population, I quickly decided that a kitchen goods store would be ideal.   As a trained chef, I realized this was a store I could run myself rather than simply let to a tenant.”

With both a Target and a Wal-Mart in nearby towns, it was important that the new store differentiated itself from them and the products they carry.   Martin continues, “With my culinary background, I know what really works in the kitchen and what products are mere gimmicks so am able to carry lines that every cook will find useful.” Martin offers knowledgeable advice to his customers and provides a personal service that large chains, often lacking any specialist staff, find hard to match.

New Preston Kitchen Goods opened just before Thanksgiving 2002 and has thrived since its inception.   It expanded in 2003 to allow the store to carry table top and home gift items.   With 90% of his trade from local customers, Martin caters for New Preston’s residents while providing a destination venue for cooks and homeowners from further afield.


A building a few doors down had, by late 2004, fallen into such a state of disrepair that it was in danger of collapsing into the falls behind.   Martin and Richard purchased the building and saved it from an untimely fate.   Running their kitchen store was a full time occupation so they found a tenant and the new store was due to open Memorial Day weekend 2005.   Fate however intervened and the proposed business fell away at the last moment.   With just a few weeks to the proposed debut, there was no tenant for the refurbished building until David Whitman and Peter Stiglin saw a unique opportunity.   With a background in creative marketing, David had a number of clients who were independent retailers and the entrepreneurs came up with a concept for what was to become their successful store, Pergola.

“We had just two weeks to put the store together, and while it has evolved since its inception, the concept of natural curiosities, unknown live plant material and decorative elements was there from the very start” says David.   The two storey store is filled with unique and unusual items that the owners select individually from their suppliers. “By visiting each supplier and personally deciding on each and every item we stock, we can ensure that Pergola offers a constantly changing array of products that will appeal to our customers.”

Such items in the store currently range from log pods off Brazilian trees to unique orchids.   The store has a stunning view of the waterfall and during the warmer months visitors have access to the back garden.   David reasons, “It just seems sensible to allow customers to see the falls and it also allows us to increase our floor space, as we are able to locate some items for sale outside.”


The redevelopment of the center has been both imaginative and sustained.

The former garage and gas station has housed J. Seitz & Co., a specialty store, which offers distinctive furniture, home accents and clothing for men and women, for over 20 years.

The former workshop of the local blacksmith is now a thriving retailer of local organic produce, cut flowers, confectionery and handicrafts, appropriately named ‘The Smithy”.   Nine Main bakery and deli, provides wonderful handmade sandwiches and freshly baked muffins and cookies and provides both indoor and outdoor seating.   Other stores include antique shops and a real estate agent.

In the fourth part of this series, one will look at the disease named after the town of Lyme, Connecticut: Lyme Disease.

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