by RONA MANN/Photo by Jeffery Lilly

DSC06328If ever there were a saying that needed to be deleted…that needed that universal red line drawn sideways through it, indicating such a deletion…it would be, “But we’ve never done it that way.”

Well, delete! Take a step outside that safe little cocoon. Forget going straight down Main Street each and every time; and more than just occasionally, turn the corner. In Madison, Connecticut that means Shop the Wall

Shop the Wall was born out of a number of merchants’ desires to have customers experience the diversity, the uniqueness, and the high quality shops that dot Wall Street, right in the very heart of downtown Madison and yet are often overlooked. But many are content to remain on Main Street, forgetting that a quick turn at the post office would expand their shopping horizons and open up a whole new world.

Joan Horton is a delightful person, but Joan Horton is not content. Once you meet this small powerhouse of a woman, there is little doubt that she could ever be content with the status quo; rather she is always looking for a better way, seeking out the unusual and unique, and marching not just to her own drummer, but to the entire marching band that seems to live under her skin. Joan Horton was not content to have shoppers just stay on Main Street, so it was she who started the Shop the Wall initiative, and happily it appears to be catching on.

Horton is not only one of Madison’s greatest champions, she is also proprietress of a wonderful little shop on Wall Street called, not surprisingly, J. Horton. While the name is a simple one, trying to  pigeon-hole or categorize the kind of shop it is may be decidedly more difficult. Probably because it’s virtually impossible to pigeon-hole Joan Horton, the woman.

“It’s a lifestyle store,” Horton begins. “In Europe it would be called a ‘concept store’ because it keeps changing. I prefer to think of what we have here as ‘curated lifestyle.'”

If indeed J. Horton is “curated lifestyle,” then it is Joan Horton who is its curator.

Joan delights in traveling the USA, trolling the gift shows, and trying always to bring back what is different, unique, and not found in every other store on the shoreline.  Her shop reflects that restless individuality as it is ever changing and not content to be and do the same thing season after season.. What might appear to the uninitiated shopper as merchandise just put out there, there is a method to the lady’s madness. Every item is carefully considered and purposefully displayed to grab attention and to somehow provide a transition from one area of the store to another.

In this she is capably aided by Colin Eastland, who mutually respects Joan for her ability to bring the uncommon to the store (“She’s got a good eye”), while Horton praises Colin as an excellent display person. However that team works, they make the shop work; for the moment you enter, you are happily assaulted by a band of turtles, wild animals adorning throw pillows, Victorian note cards, French porcelain, “naughty” writing tablets, and vintage, vintage, vintage, subtly seducing you into every corner of the well appointed space.

Vintage kindles a special passion in Joan Horton’s soul, and she deliberately brings in certain items “to touch a memory in people. I want people to remember when there was real conversation, when we would dress up every day..I want them to look at an item and immediately be transported back in time to a happy place. I want visitors to this store to pick up something and say, ‘My mother had that. She used to keep it on the dining room table.’ That’s what makes me happy.”
Indeed Joan Horton has curated this store as much for herself as for her customers. If the lady wouldn’t wear it nor use it in her home, it’s highly unlikely she would sell it in her shop. “I buy these pieces because I need to have them around me. Sometimes I get really upset when I sell something I like,” she laughs.

Ask Colin or ask Joan about the success of J. Horton, and the answer is the same. Joan is always looking…always trying to better herself. “It’s always an education with me. The things in the shop are a bit of my personality, and no one can quite pinhole me. But I love discovering new items to bring back to the store. To me, the hunt is the challenge.”

Colin points with ride to Horton’s “discovery” of Montes Doggett, exquisitely simple Peruvian made pottery that can go in an instant from oven to table. Then there are wine glasses, photographs, Cleveland Art Glass, and one of a kind vintage jewelry items.

Pause for a moment and become familiar with the Prosperity Hens, hanging in colorful rows. A traditional talisman of abundance revered by the people of northern India, Prosperity Hens are all at once colorful, playful, and can serve as either wall sconce, room divider, or just a fun piece strategically placed. There are no rules, which is no doubt why Joan Horton chose to have these delightful pieces in her store.

DSC06340And there are paper placemats here, baby cuddlies over there, gloves, beautiful skin products from Tokyomilk, and “Peepers” in all colors and styles (magnifiers that will covert you forever from the plain old styles from the drugstore or discount emporium).

Joan delights in showing off Garden Grams, unusual “greeting cards” which when soaked in water, will sprout! And how she loves the monogrammed purses in every color for every outfit, the large display of nail lacquers, and metal jewelry that defies simple definition and compartmentalization. The list of items found at J. Horton could go on, but why? It is for the curious, the person who appreciates owning or giving the unique, to turn the corner to Wall Street and find it for themselves. And what is here today might well not be found tomorrow.

To say J. Horton is reflective of its owner is no small statement. Joan worked for 17 years for Revlon doing everything from editor launches of new products, to design, to establishing the first pop-up shops, to finding designers before they were new and being first to present their work. Joan filled goodie bags for Academy Award nominees with wonderful “finds;” and before leaving Revlon, she had risen to Vice President of Corporate Events, feted for her ability to always ferret out the unique and the exclusive.

Fact is, Joan Horton has always had an edge…to her personality, to her outlook on life, to the way she establishes a business. It is that sharp corner that has always made her stand out and forced others to take notice. Her love of Madison is apparent. From the moment she discovered the little town by the water she was smitten and knew she wanted to be a part of it. That’s why she is fully invested in the town, its organizations, and its people.

“There is something very special about this place, that’s why I wanted my store to be here. This is more than just a store. It’s a place where people can just come in and say hello. They don’t have to buy anything. I want us to be a part of this town, and I want people to know that we are about more than just buying and selling. I just want people to get excited about being in Madison!”

Shop The Wall and J. Horton, located at 14 Wall Street, right around the corner from Main Street, Madison.   (203)779-5343

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