A t its Church Street location near Grove, among so many bustling office buildings, Walker-Loden gets its fair share of lunch-hour browsers.
Perhaps they’re in need of a get-well card. Or a hostess gift for a dinner party that evening. Maybe they’re furnishing a new home and have something much bigger in mind, like a pair of reading lamps or an antique dresser.
The shop has all of those things, and it’s fitting that a store meant to fit your home feels so homey. The staff operates more like a family than co-workers, and there’s a unique combination of talent between the two friends who own the shop.
Peter Loden and Bill Walker first opened the store in 1989 in Guilford. Loden had a long history in retail sales and management and was ready to open his own business; Walker had been a costume designer for years at Long Wharf Theatre, as well as on and off Broadway, and was ready for a change of pace. Together it made sense and the friends have been business partners since.
The Guilford location eventually closed, but the duo opened shops in New Haven and Madison in 1991, both of which remain in business.
When I visit 258 Church to chat with Walker, he tells me that it’s Loden—who takes responsibility for most of the business’s antique purchases, through estate sales and dealers—and his retail expertise that ensures their success.
But he’s interrupted mid-sentence by Juanita Bunnell, who has worked at Walker-Loden for 14 years and is sitting behind the store counter that day. “Bill is a genius,” she says, adding that she couldn’t let him go without credit. “He has the eye for the displays.”
No doubt Walker’s stage background is a major influence in the store’s design, which gently pulls a customer’s attention from an antique glass-paned dresser to fine gold chains of several necklaces on display to brightly colored cotton napkins and dishtowels, fanned artfully on a tabletop and draped over heavy ceramic bowls.
Lamps of all sizes and colors, switched on and displayed along a cheerful pink wall, aid an overall ambient lighting scheme. In a back room, there’s a full range of greeting cards as well as a selection of stuffed toys and other baby gifts.
Walker-Loden carries goods from local artisans when it can, and is always on the lookout for new finds. The diversity in inventory means the same in prices; customers can spend $12 on a small gift, $50 on home goods or a few hundred on a piece of furniture.
As for those bigger pieces, both store locations do offer delivery. But customers are asked to give a donation (not a fee) for the service, which goes to non-profits that aid the needy in Haiti. Walker says that generous customers are more than willing to give what they can—and sometimes give quite a bit—to support Walker-Loden’s long-standing commitment to this cause. Last year they raised between $3,000 and $4,000 in delivery donations, he says.
Walker says one of his favorite parts of the job is redesigning the store when major pieces have been purchased. He’ll head to the brimming basement or to the off-site storage space to pick out new pieces to display, moving others around. It means the shop’s look is constantly changing, which is important for a “neighborhood store,” he says, referring to the steady stream of customers who come from nearby on a regular basis.
“If you come in once a week, there’s always a surprise for you,” he says.
Often, he says, when picking just the right item for exactly the right spot—a decorative rooster, say, or an oversized serving bowl—he thinks about a loyal patron’s specific taste, wondering if he or she will find the item on an upcoming visit.
“There’s a challenge in finding something that strikes a chord in the customer,” he says. For the customer, the challenge may be in leaving Walker-Loden with only one find.
258 Church St, New Haven (map) | (203) 865-8196
788 Boston Post Rd, Madison (map) | (203) 245-8663
Mon-Sat 10am-6 pm, Sun 11am-5pm
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.