Lee's Vintage Garden blooming in Fairfield 
By Rita Papazian
Posted: 05/08/2009

It is inspiring to see how a garden variety of work experience can produce the seed for opening one's own shop some day. That is exactly what has happened with Kathy Lee, a young mother of three sons, who while raising her young family, has kept in mind that part of her life's plan would be to include her very own gift and floral shop.

Thanks in part to Albert and Ken Kleban, the father and son team responsible for the surge of new retail space in the downtown "Brick Walk" area, Lee has found the perfect setting for her dream to become a reality at the 1189 Post Rd site. The Klebans have helped in turning Lee's dream into a reality by accommodating her interior design for the shop in the 1640-square-foot space just off the brick esplanade between the two rows of "lifestyle" retail shops.

"The Klebans have been wonderful," Lee said. "They couldn't have been more supportive of letting me fulfill my dreams. They just asked me what I wanted. She praised the Klebans for their respect for the independent business owners and their manner of accommodating shop owners in these challenging economic times.

Lee noted that her shop like the others opening in the Brick Walk represent a new wave of "mom and pop" shops in town. 
The Klebans couldn't be more pleased with what they saw. Ken Kleban even took time out from his business day to buy his wife a Mother's Day present at Vintage Garden.

"It's very serendipitous," said the elder Kleban. "You look in one direction and you see something beautiful, chocolate. You look in another direction and there's handsome pottery. It's a fabulous store."

In the midst of arranging 20 floral arrangements for a fashion show at the Brooklawn Country Club, recently Lee took time out to discuss the joy in seeing her dream become a reality.

How unique is this shop?

Quite unique, considering that when Lee joined the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce recently she said there wasn't a gift shop category for membership. It is evident that in opening the shop, Lee is carving out her own garden path on the retail landscape. And she is doing it with panache, and well she should.

Consider the portfolio of work she brings to her new role as proprietor. This Staples High School graduate, who earned her Bachelor of Science degree in business Administration from the University of Southern California, is a former retail manager for the gift shop at the flagship Ritz-Carlton hotel in downtown Boston. Also, she is former floral manager for the HayDay/Balducci's in Westport. During her teen years she worked for Joanna Hush and her husband, owners of the Greens Farms Bookstore and Seasonings, a gourmet shop. Add to her resume her stint at the Vie de France bakery in the Carriage Hill retail complex in Westport.

With each retail experience, Lee was expanding her knowledge and skills in the floral, food and giftware industries. When it came time to take the step and open her shop, Lee turned to her childhood friend who has followed a similar path through the Westport Public Schools and who became the floral manager for Hay Day's Greenwich shop. Donna Jones is now Lee's shop manager. Hired after Lee had done the purchasing for the shop's merchandise, Jones praised her selection. "I was just amazed. One thing was nicer than the next."

Looking around the shop at the variety of merchandise, Lee said, "I think I have a nice mix that you won't find anywhere else"ŽI love doing the buying. I love finding different things. You know at Christmastime how you buy one for a friend and one for yourself?" That is truly the feeling as one meanders throughout the shop filled with displays of unique and attractive gifts for Mother's and Father's Day, birthdays, baby and wedding showers, teacher and hostess gifts, graduation celebrations and any other special event or holiday.

Vintage Garden offers picture frames, candles, gift books, cookbooks, stationery, pottery, linens, craft kits, multi-purpose decorative galvanized tins, chocolates, soaps, garden accessories, plants, baked goods and mixes, cut flowers and floral arrangements. A special feature is the Azalea Standard, a potted azalea plant that can be grown indoors or on a covered porch or patio.

The shop features such leading brands as Stonewall Kitchen, SwitchFlops by Lindsay Phillips, Gianna Rose Atelier and Sweet Shop USA handmade chocolates.

The merchandise is beautifully displayed with natural light coming from two large expansive walls of glass offering a perfect backdrop. The shop includes a floral department with a refrigerated display class filled with "romantic" flowers, including roses, lilies, Hydrangea, Parrot Tulips, and Lisianthus.

"I have to tell you, it was hard to choose," said Fairfield resident Christine Chisholm, who was shopping with her 3-year-old son Brian. Chisholm was at the counter watching Lee gift wrap twin-pots of pink hydrangea, a Mother's Day gift.

"I'm so happy she opened the shop. There's a beautiful selection of inventory. And I love the location. You can park in the back," Chisholm said.

As shop owner Lee walked a visitor around the shop, this mother of three sons paused and quipped, "This is my girls' room." She stood before a vast display of merchandise with lots of pink packaging filled with fun items for the younger female member in a family.

Behind the shop's counter, Lee brought out a selection of cards and a stretched frame, by illustrator Jesse Wilcox Smith (1863-1935). She looked at them in a nostalgic way, noting that her mother has always loved this artist. In a way, she said, the subtle beauty of the illustrations represents her dream that has become her reality. It is this old-fashioned feeling that the merchandise emits a sense of joy, respect and love for the one who receives the gift.

Vintage garden's variety of merchandise can be arranged in gift basket at the shop. The shop also offers complimentary gift wrapping so shoppers can go "from the shop to the event," said Lee, who with her family are Fairfield residents and more reason why she chose to open her shop in town.

Hours are Mon. -- Sat., from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sun. noon to 5 p.m. (special hours, this Sunday, Mother's Day -- 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) Vintage Gardens can be reached at (203) 292-5450.