Retirement to close Chester Flowers & Village Children’s Shop While 33-year business partnership comes to an end, a longer friendship continues

From left, Diane Stocker and Cheryl LeClair are welcomed by dress shop owners Suzy Forlie and Mary Ballou when they opened in 1985. Photo courtesy Stocker and LeClair.

By Cynthia Prairie
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

After more than 30 years in business, through changing times and tastes, Diane Stocker and Cheryl LeClair, who have kept area children fashionably dressed and local tables and special occasions in bloom, are retiring.

Sometime in mid-October, the Village Children’s Shop and Chester Flowers, at 145 S. Main. St., will be closing their doors one last time. Stocker and her husband Rich, who owns a plumbing company, will be moving to South Carolina to be near family. And LeClair and her husband Mike intend to stay put since their family is within easy driving distance.

LeClair and Stocker are long-time Chester friends who started the Village Children’s Shop in August 1985 after spending years shopping together throughout Vermont for clothes for their own children.  A store seemed a natural extension.

Their first shop was located at 14 Main St., next to the former American Legion and VTica building.

A newspaper clipping from 1988 announces the shop’s move to new quarters.

Stocker recalls returning from their first buying trip to Boston before the store opened. It was obvious they had made a mistake in ordering summer clothes. “We decided it was too short a season and we’d never make any money, so we came home and canceled all the lines,” she says, adding that they instead bought back-to-school and fall and winter lines.

As soon as the new shop opened its doors, it was busy, Stocker recalls. The clothes were “unique lines that you couldn’t buy at a J.C. Penney or a Sears.”

About three years after opening, the Stockers purchased their current building, a typical “big house, little house, back house, barn” construction just a few blocks south of their first store, expanding their space to between 1,500 and 1,800 square feet and selling boys and girls clothes up to age 14.

In those pre-Internet/pre-Mailchimp days, LeClair and Stocker would announce sales through hand-addressed postcards to their vast Rolodex mailing list.

Buying habits, tastes change

They ended the mailings in the early 1990s when people’s buying habits began to change. By 1995, sales began to decline. “I guess it was the Holyoke (Mass.) Mall expansion that first started impacting the shop,” says Stocker, adding that by then “parents stopped dressing their children in a certain way. … Jeans and T-shirts became acceptable, even in church.”

LeClair pours Stocker a post-lunch beverage.

LeClair says they still had their “high-end shoppers …. especially grandmothers and we also brought in wooden and educational toys, which has been very successful.”

Then, in 2002, with the closing of two flower shops in Chester, the businesswomen who were now downsizing the clothing shop decided to open a flower shop as well. “Some might think it a strange combination, but it isn’t,” says Stocker. “When one shop is busy, the other isn’t.” And it works.

The two traveled to Waterbury to take a week long course on flower arranging, flowers and their care and uses. “While we would take the classes whenever we could,” says Stocker, “most of what we learned we learned on our own.” She adds, “Cheryl always had a knack for flowers.”

“I’ve always loved gardening,” LeClair says. “It’s been a passion my whole life. … but Diane’s strength is in flowers too.”

Proms, graduations, weddings, funerals, Valentine’s Day have all been busy. Then there are spring flowers to break the winter gloom, fall flowers to usher in the season and winter arrangements for the holiday table.

Stocker, left, and LeClair at their flower cooler.

Still,  there have been changes there as well. “We did wire service flowers for about eight years but dropped it.  … Why wouldn’t a customer just Google florists in the town that they are sending to?” remarks Stocker. “It also wasn’t financially viable,” says LeClair.

The two have also noted changes in funeral habits. “You used to walk into a viewing and the place would be packed with flowers,” says Stocker. “Now, some people don’t even have services for their deceased loved one.”

And many of the arrangements that they are doing are very personal. They recall a Jiffy Mart employee who came in with a Jiffy Mart coffee cup that she wanted worked into an arrangement for one of her regular coffee customers who had died and another woman who wanted an arrangement in a stiletto heel.

Looking back on the long partnership, LeClair says, “All of friends said it would never last. But we’ve never had an argument about the business in all these years.” They even share lunch duty, one preparing lunch one day and the other the next. “We talk about work during lunch,” says Stocker.

“I do the book work,” says Stocker.  “And I usually do the deliveries,” adds LeClair.

They’ve had a few nibbles on the flower shop and still hopes it will sell along with the building.

As for being 14 hours apart once the Stockers settle into their new home, LeClair has no worries. Diane has a bedroom specifically designated for Cheryl’s visits.

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Filed Under: Business & Personal FinanceBusiness PeopleChesterFeatured

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Ghislaine de Rochefort says:

    Their shops were wonderful. They will be missed!

  2. Rev. Susan E Moody says:

    We would like to invite everyone to a Farewell Open House for the Stockers on Sunday, October 7th from 2 pm to 5 pm at the Congregational Church of Chester. Refreshments will be served. Our building is handicapped accessible.

    Our goal is to give everyone in town a chance to say farewell and send the Stockers off to SC with love, prayers, and good wishes!

    Call Susan Moody or Georgia Ethier with any questions.

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