Stephanie Wilder’s eclectic shopkeeping
Though most of the shops on Cherry Street in Black Mountain are lined in a row, Chifferobe Home & Garden is tucked away off the beaten path in Cherry Street Square.
Its promise to offer “eccentric objects for unconventional people” is reflected in the offbeat surname the proprietor chose for herself - Wilder.
Even though Stephanie Wilder goes to great lengths to portray her goods - and her lifestyle - as “oddball,” if you spend time with her, it becomes apparent that her way of looking at things is not so unusual at all.
In order to understand her lingering notion of oddness, we have to harken back to her post at a private school in Charlotte. Dubbed as a “progressive,” the English teacher began a ritual Thursday night dinner for kindred spirits who, compared to their ultra-conservative community, appeared to be misfits.
“For example,” Wilder said, “as a teacher who didn’t wear preppy outfits, I was called in by the principal and told I had to cut my hair and start dressing appropriately. Otherwise parents of prospective students would be put off. I told him if they saw him in that polyester jacket and plaid pants, that’s what would make them turn away.”
Thus she segued from “progressive” to “oddball,” a person not about to give in to the outer-directed status quo.
Later, while teaching boys at the juvenile center in Swannanoa, she had a booth at an antique mall in Asheville, something she did to express her innate love of uncommon goods. When the mall and the center closed, she took her inventory to Cherry Street Square, where she was free to live up to her own expectations.
“As a teacher,” said Wilder, “one of my favorite books was ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ I was in love with the word ‘chifferobe’ and its unhampered usefulness. In the same way, I wanted a space in which I could stash all kinds of stuff.”
As a result, inside her shop (her very own chifferobe) you come upon all kinds of unique artifacts, from scuffed pieces of old-timey furniture, to stone carvings created by a folk artist from Athens, Georgia, to a colorful wooden birdcage replete with a shingled roof. What you see here is whatever strikes her fancy.
“In the words of the Grateful Dead song,” she said, “we all need to ‘let our freak flag fly.’ Because, it so happens, we have a lot of ardent people in this valley. We’re surrounded by creativity. And that goes for everyone who comes into my place. They’re seeking something way beyond the same old, same old.”
When she goes to a flea market or auction, she responds to a piece not only because it strikes her fancy but because it resonates within her, she said. Gifted antique appraisers tremble when they are in the presence of something that is genuine, she said, an idea that reminded her of her Quaker faith.
“In the Quaker meeting, if someone gets up to speak, it resonates with everyone because it’s coming from a deep place,” she said. “What I’m always looking for in people, objects and everything is the core. The essence. In the meeting, when a thought comes to you, when it’s divine, really touches you and is meant to be shared, you start to quake - that’s where the word (Quaker) came from.
“Come to think of it, I guess there actually is a thread connecting what I wear, how I relate and how I am in the world when something is truly vibrating.”
And so, in thinking twice about the best way to describe herself, she omits the word “oddball” entirely.