Retail Renewal in New Canaan

As several local merchants close shop, one local resident is stepping into the breach with her first retail venture.

"I think I was born to do this," says newly minted shop owner, Caren Forbes.

Although this is her first foray into retailing, she says she realized that opening her eponymous store at 111 Main Street, just upstairs from and , was something that, in many ways, she had been preparing for for many years.

As she explained to Patch, she has always loved searching out that unique object, the diamond in the rough, the piece with potential.

At the age of fifteen, in order to satisfy her desire to buy her own clothes, she went to work. Earning her own money, she was able to indulge her passion and develop her eye.

Over the years she honed her taste and came to recognize that, although she might not be able to create a caftan or bracelet, she did have a talent for curating; for selecting well-made, beautiful pieces that she loved, and that others did too.

She admits, as any new business entrepreneur will appreciate, that it took a certain amount of courage to open her store. 

But, she has not done it alone. Her two daughters, both college students, have cheered her efforts from the start, and they have provided more than just moral support.

When she began to think about her business, she realized she would need a logo.

As Forbes explains, "I had asked my daughter, Caleigh — the one that attends Brown — if she knew anyone at RISD (the Rhode Island School of Design, also located in Providence), that could help me with my logo. She said one of her good friends, Alex Cohen, was graduating with a degree in graphics. Alex and I worked on the iterations between his finals, paper deadlines, school breaks and myriad other graduating senior diversions. I think he did a great job capturing the essence of me." She adds generously, "I think  he is going to be someone to keep an eye on."

Her other daughter, Allie, who attends Fairfield University, has taken on the business back end, managing the office and doing the bookkeeping, something Forbes says she's very grateful for.

As for sourcing store merchandise, which includes, tops, jewelry, scarves and bags, Forbes is enjoying finding unique sources and determined to work directly with craftspeople, not middle-market suppliers.

Indian bracelets displayed on branch-like stands elicit a story about their creator. While attending a merchandising show in Chicago that was not focussed on jewelry, she found him in an out of the way corner of the market. After a conversation, she decided to not only purchase his bracelets for her store, but assisted him in finding US markets that were more suited to his product.

Rather than purchase Turkish scarves from wholesalers in the large markets of Istanbul, she has located the artisans in northern Turkey and purchased directly from them. 

Coming soon, she promises bags made by a couple in Poland.

Greg Reilly July 01, 2011 at 02:19 PM
The personal aspect of the story is always interesting -- resident pursues passion, but I wonder about the business aspect, especially in the context of what many consider a difficult retail environment in downtown New Canaan. Does this new business fill a void in the market or have a competitive advantage? Being upstairs is unusual, presumably with lower rent. Whatever it is that gives the entrepreneur confidence in business success may be enlightening to other local retailers. Greg Reilly
Marie July 27, 2011 at 11:46 AM
As a resident of New Canaan for more than 30 years, I find that businesses like this one, offers identical products and services and competes with other small stores that have been established for much longer, which in can be a problem in this tough economy. Fortunately, Forbes' retail store is a coming and going fad with a low chance of survival. And as I posted before, I was very disappointed to find her items at Stew Leonard's super market at a much lower price.
Jane Himmel July 27, 2011 at 12:40 PM
And, as I posted on the other thread, it may be that Caren's is a handmade article purchased directly from the artisan, while Stew's is a mass-produced item. I would like to welcome Caren Forbes in her new venture and wish her the best of luck. New Canaan needs people to support the mom-and-pop businesses, otherwise we have no one but ourselves to blame for all the chain retailers moving in...
MPM July 27, 2011 at 02:12 PM
Ms Forbes' shop is beautiful and offers some well priced merchandise that I've not seen elsewhere. She's not alone in the "mark up conundrum" frequently encountered by those who shop in town. As far as the people of the town not wanting to pay a higher price for things that can be purchased elsewhere for less- that's called the market - it pays what it's willing to pay. No one wants to feel taken advantage of. Marie is not alone in that and New Canaan retailers need to be more sensitive to that fact. Chains are moving into long empty spaces here because the landlords refuse to believe that their locations aren't worth what the landlord wants to charge and the chains can absorb the loss while having an "upscale" address. I called a local landlord a few months ago to inquire about their empty storefront for a business that has wanted to move to town for years. The rent would be $80/sqft. Ok, how much for a 5 year lease with 2 years paid upfront? $80/sqft. Instead of a great, local, privately owned business, there's a chain in that location. I wish good luck and much to Ms Forbes and all of the independently owned shops in town. Their success is New Canaan's success. I believe that it's the landlords sitting on empty storefronts that need to be more supportive to the privately owned and small businesses.
Four Jacks July 27, 2011 at 04:47 PM
I just visited a store in NC today, only to find a sign in the door stating it would be closed until August 8th, because business is usually slow at this time of year. Retailers - you can't have it both ways, we will buy the jazz shoes we need in another town now.
Diane July 28, 2011 at 02:24 PM
I recently stopped at Caren's store mostly out of curiosity and to see what the buzz was about. The store is quite lovely, although I did not find anything I would actually purchase (items are too cultural) , but I do applaud her efforts. It must take a lot of courage to start over again. We are all aware of her past scandal and her incredible financial losses, but most of all the unwanted attention she received from the media surrounding her court trials and we all sympathize. And while we consider her a great addition to the small businesses in New Canaan, I cannot help my weariness to consider Forbes' retail store a mom pop business. Her scandal cost the state an innumerable amount of money--and the real estate market suffered because of the Forbes. There is much controversy around Caren and while some are happy to see her new retail space, there are others who simply wish she would stop causing spectacles.
Greg Reilly July 28, 2011 at 03:00 PM
I did not know about Caren Forbes "past scandal and her incredible financial losses". I am interested in the business aspect of her new venture. Sharing strategies might possibly help the local business community at large. What is it that will make her successful while some others find retailing in New Canaan very difficult? Merchandise? Lower rent by being upstairs? Technology and marketing? Other? PS: I think it creates a more constructive readership environment if contributing writers / story commenters include their name. Greg Reilly


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