Walker Loden Celebrates 30 Years of Community in Downtown Madison
It has been 30 years since gift and antique shop Walker Loden opened its doors in downtown Madison, and a lot of things have changed over the course of those three decades—both for the town and the shop
More important though, a lot of things haven’t changed, according to owner Peter Loden, who reflected on the shop’s long tenure in Madison and his interactions with residents during his time as the store marks the big anniversary.
“It’s trying to make a connection with people and talk to them and get to know them, and listen to them,” said Loden. “I see people who come in and have concerns about everyday life...I see people who are in a hurry, because time is so valuable nowadays—they’re looking for a gift for a wedding, or a birthday present that they’re going to [need] in 15 minutes. It’s trying to make all those connections and find the right purpose for what they’re looking for.”
Though much of downtown has grown aesthetically since Walker Loden opened its doors in 1989, Loden said that based on the kind of people he sees, the feel of the community, and the atmosphere of cooperation, downtown Madison has maintained the same spirit he first encountered all those years ago.
“Businesses come and go, businesses work together...We’ve learned over the years that it’s a small world, a small community,” he said.
Ironically, Loden said a large part of his success can be attributed to his ability to change, adapting and evolving he listens to his customer base. He said he’s able to do this because he interacts directly with customers and can make pragmatic decisions that in a corporate setting couldn’t.
Working for many years managing retail stores and chains around New England, Loden said he was told by many people over the years to start his own business. When he decided to take that leap, along with his business partner Bill Walker, the choice was between Westport, or the Madison-Guilford area, Loden said.
Part of the reason he chose Madison was for the “reverse commute” from the New Haven area, Loden said, but it was also much more than that.
Owning a small business in a small town, a little off the beaten path with a unique history and cultural landscape like Madison creates something personal, Loden said, which he never experienced working in corporate environments.
“It goes back to customers and looking for what their needs are,” Loden said.
Loden said he also knows that his staff is a huge part of what keeps customers coming back, and in the small community, making sure that people are always taken care of is something he is always conscious of.
“People say, ‘You’ve been here for 30 years, what do you attribute that to?’ I turn to the staff and say, ‘There they are.’ They’re working with you, they’re trying to help you, they’re listening to you,” Loden said.
Asked what changes he had seen during his long tenure downtown, Loden lauded recent improvements as part of the Downtown Center project, including new sidewalks and a new median on Boston Post Road added over the last few years. But he credited the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the people in Madison at large for maintaining an environment where businesses like his that put real effort into their product and service are rewarded.
He specifically cited big town-sponsored events like parades that create an “our-town type of vision” for downtown, which he said he thinks will continue into the future.
“It’s always been mom-and-pop stores,” he said.