Two years after Varnum’s Pharmacy vacated its longtime, iconic home alongside the alley on Main Street, a new business is poised to take over the commercial space on a full-time basis.
Chris Meier said he’s planning to launch ‘Against The Grain’ at 91 Main St. in mid-August. Various Adirondack-style chairs already are appearing outside the store, which provides handcrafted wood and other items from local artists and is a unique source of high-quality Amish-made furniture, Meier said.
A native of Cape Cod, Meier said he selected New Canaan after spending about six months doing business in a pop-up space in Stamford’s South End, where he lives with his wife Beth, a 2000 graduate of Stamford High School (they’ve been married for one year).
“A lot of our traffic was weekend traffic, people coming to restaurants and bars,” Meier said from the 2,400-square-foot floor, where he’s busy unpacking various indoor and outdoor furniture pieces and sets.
Meier performed a good deal of market research, figuring out where his customer based was coming from, and settled on New Canaan, which he initially investigated about three or four years ago, he said.
“I really liked the town,” he said. “It feels like it’s very retail-oriented, I feel that it’s a central area where people from Fairfield and Westchester come for shopping. It’s definitely got a good market for me. A lot of people have houses here. Stamford is mostly rentals, so I didn’t get a lot of business from people living in Harbor Point, but I was getting a lot of business from people coming from outside Harbor Point, ordering dining sets and outdoor furniture, some bedroom set orders.”
Customers routinely spent 45 minutes perusing the original furniture and other items that Meier acquires through exclusive purchasing agreements with Amish wood product wholesalers, he said.
What’s available ranges widely from outdoor items that can take up to one month to create to indoor items that require twice that amount of time—bedroom sets, rocking chairs and gliders as well as smaller items such as cutting boards, carvings, artistic pieces, utensils, puzzles, games for kids and Amish toys. Other items that go beyond furniture include wind chimes, birdfeeders and birdhouses, he said.
“It’s a unique store,” Meier said. “These are things you will not find on Amazon. We have more than 150 vendors that we use, so we have a huge assortment of items, primarily made in the United States and Canada. You’re going to find one-of-a-kind, unique things here. That’s what people love.”
Meier said he intends to join the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce and become further involved locally by displaying the work of area artists, handmade wood as well as metal products, with an eye on giving them a visible spot for sales, and also would feature work that students produce in local schools.
Asked for her thoughts on the new shop, the chamber’s executive director, Tucker Murphy, said she was “glad that the space has been filled.”
“It’s one of the few vacant spaces in town, which is wonderful,” Murphy said.
Noting that she had not yet connected directly with Meier, Murphy added that she had seen some of his items outside “and the Adirondack chairs certainly look comfortable.”
“We wish him well and look forward to working with him,” Murphy said.
The owner of the commercial building on Main Street has been seeking the right tenant for the former Varnum’s space for months, entertaining the idea of installing a gift shop while turning away multiple restaurants and other food vendors. In launching a retail store whose merchandise includes furniture and home goods, Against The Grain becomes a destination for shoppers who also might visit Thomas Throop’s Black Creek Designs on Grove Street, Found on Elm Street and Severed Ties on Cherry Street.
Meier, a native of Brewster, Mass., said his is a family business. His own father, after retiring from a 30-year career in forensic psychology in East Lyme, bought a wood shop and slowing built a business, Woodworks Gallery, up in Brewster.
Meier said he will offer similarly high-quality furniture to what is available there, and will expand the line of merchandise.
“We go to a lot of craft fairs and trade shows,” Meier said. “We are very particular about high quality.”