Call of the Valley: The wild ride of Stephanie Wilder
When a person changes her surname to Wilder as soon as she gets the chance, she may be letting the world in on her true identity.
That’s exactly what Stephanie Wilder, the proprietor of Chifferobe: Home and Garden for Eccentric People, had in mind. But this store across from the old train station on Cherry Street is only an extension of the wilder story which has taken many a turn along the way.
“For instance, when I was teaching English at Charlotte Country Day School, our little group thought education should be interesting," Wilder said. "Things were always evolving, we got excited about the innovations we brought to the classroom and so we gathered to share our experiences. But lots of other teachers used notes. Lesson plans they relied on year after year so much that they’d turned yellow. Those other teachers could have been replaced by robots.”
A search for greener pastures led her to Asheville, a more liberal environment snug in the mountains. The only trouble was that many like Wilder sought the same ambiance and a position teaching English was hard to come by. One day she happened to be driving by the “juvie” school in Swannanoa, made enquiries and discovered they indeed needed an instructor with her background. Here she was given the challenge of engaging kids who couldn’t care less in direct contrast to her privileged college bound private school charges back in Charlotte. These kids would actually tell her they already knew everything worth knowing.
“So I came up with a version of Macbeth, made it more accessible and read it to them because they couldn’t read," Wilder said. "Which they loved and could identify with. They took parts and acted out each scene. And I showed them a movie version that was set in Australia where Macbeth is a drug dealer. There was a lot of shooting so these kids really got a sense of what this play was about. We compared and contrasted character motivations and they were fully engaged.”
However, the powers that be decided to impose a standard curriculum. Wilder responded to this ploy by the Dept. of Juvenile Justice on her blog and was suspended. Four months later, the school closed down and she was faced with another career challenge. This time, however, the solution was simple: do something she’s always loved as a free spirit wholly in charge.
“So I opened a store in the courtyard on Cherry Street,” she said. “I mean, how hard can it be? I always had a booth at the Screen Door in Asheville (an antique mall of vintage items and collectibles) while I was a teacher and I’ve always liked buying things, especially stuff you can tell was made with their own two hands. It wasn’t manufactured, somebody valued it and it’s still around a hundred years later. And you can see little marks that tell you somebody cared enough to repair it instead of throwing it away.”
Soon enough, Wilder discovered people weren’t buying antiques and considered the fact that she liked other stuff too. For example, she was taken by the exploits of a man who lived nearby in the woods, armed with just a pocket knife, who carved shelves that looked like a tree growth that turned into a display case. The only problem was that the store was located well back in the courtyard and people passed her by. And so she opted for her present location at the cross section at the bottom of the street with lots more light. Her plants love it and she’s doing much better business.
“One big change: I’m buying things that people like, not just me," Wilder said. "Moreover, all of us on Cherry Street try hard not to duplicate each other. Everything I offer still has someone’s hands on it, like a set of ceramic spoons. The clothes are made by small companies that only produce a few things. I also carry used men’s flannel shirts as opposed to new ones which are hard and stiff. People come to me to be surprised. For the experience of exclaiming, ‘Ooh, you have such a collection of unusual things.’”