BRANFORD — She may be all grown up now with an impressive corporate resume forged mostly on the Left Coast, but hometown girl Samantha Smith is bringing the hometown feel back to Main Street with her intimate and aptly named Gather Branford Pop-Up Market.
Most recently the last home of the Waiting Station lunch and coffee shop, which, in an earlier iteration, was Smith’s school bus stop in Short Beach, Smith has transformed the tin-ceilinged space at 1048 Main St., “where I feel I was meant to be,” into a welcoming multifunction home for pop-up events. Right now, it’s all things holiday with her own Stocking Stuffer Pop-Up Market, featuring new, gently used, vintage and sourced local handmade gifts that directly reflect Smith’s creative aesthetic.
“It’s all about community,” says Smith, a 1984 Branford High grad whose inaugural Gather event last spring was a fundraiser selling found vintage photographs of local sites for her son’s BHS tennis team. Her other son is at Boston University.
“I’m thrilled to be back. I really like being in a place where you have to check on the neighbors, not like New York where as soon as you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind,” she says.
“We try to be as local as possible,” she says, giving a visitor a tour of the inventory, which is eclectic enough for those who consider finding unique stocking stuffers a challenge to their treasure-hunting skills: gourmet dog treats by Adelbrook Bark-ery, mini succulents from The Planters Effect, nail and string ornaments and DIY kits by TAGGArt, Wild Fiber knit hats and zip pouches by Within Creative.
“The thought was to have 60 percent recyclable stuff, stuff we feel passionate about that we really like,” she says, pointing out the wooden ornaments on the fir tree in the window, estate jewelry, vintage photo items, teas from Brooklyn, environmentally conscious stainless steel straws, flatware.
Since its inaugural event last spring, Gather has been booked with events ranging from wine tasting, book signing, artist pop-up shop and has a full holiday schedule lined up for Stocking Stuffer Pop-Up Store:
Official public opening, Black Friday, Nov. 29, 11 a.m.- 4 p.m.; Small Business Saturday, Nov. 30, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., with a Community Open House 5-8 p.m. serving refreshments for holiday parade visitors; Thursday, Dec. 5, 7-9 p.m., DIY String Arts class hosted by TaggART (register at 203-214-7006, BYOB); Wednesday, Dec. 11, 5-8 p.m., Sip, Shop & Stroll, teaming with Sweets on Main with wine, crackers and homemade holiday cookies ($5 off and purchase of $25 or more).
The shop will be open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 12-15, and “visitors are welcome to pop in” whenever the shades are up, Smith says. For more information: www.gatherbranford.com or @GatherBranford on Facebook. The space may be rented for $95 an hour, for a minimum of 4 hours: 203-214-7006.
While she hasn’t been a townie for 30 years, Branford was never far from the mind of Smith, a Fashion Institute of Technology grad. The road back to her hometown follows a corporate career in retail with stints in New York and San Francisco, where, as a Gap executive, she was responsible for helping to conceive its Old Navy division, which was recently spun off as one of the healthiest survivors of The Gap’s recent downsizings.
Smith’s apple didn’t fall far from the family tree, which contributed both her artistic and entrepreneurial roots. Her mother was the Annie of the popular Annie’s Firehouse Soup Kitchen on Edwards Street in New Haven, and her father was an artist whose work was exhibited at the Munson Gallery, which is now located in Chatham, Mass.
In 2003, Smith founded Samantha Smith Productions, LLC, a large-scale event-planning company which she runs as a bi-coastal company, with teams in Mexico, California and here, where Smith now works out of the Gather space.
“I divide my time up where needed,” she says. “When we do corporate events, we do it all, arranging the speakers, arranging airfare and housing, writing speeches. I really like knowing that I made a difference for a company rather than just doing the pretty party.”
Smith says the Gather building owner was more than generous in helping transform the space from an old coffee shop to its present sleek, modern space with new floors, lights, HVAC updates, bathroom and rejuvenating that original tin ceiling with a coat of paint.
She points to two tables and the room dividers with a decidedly Swedish design vibe that Handlavet Handmade Furniture and Custom Woodworking of Madison crafted for her to use both to reconfigure the space for office privacy or to customize the room for events.
“I wanted to give some life to Main Street,” she says, echoing some of the community sentiment that the increasing abundance of commercial rather than retail businesses on the town’s main thoroughfare has blunted some of its homey charm.
“What we’re doing at Gather is for the community,” Smith says. “I want it to evolve slowly, and I’m trying to be open whenever the Green is ‘open.’ I have my passion projects, like this stocking stuffer event, which I’d be willing to do something like this quarterly. In the beginning of the year, I’d love to have a workshop to create vision boards. It’s amazing what you can find in magazines. Maybe it will depend on what the community wants, and perhaps more kids-oriented events.”
Smith said she doesn’t know what Gather will be in a year. “As a community, we’ll figure out what we are and what we can do in here. I want it to be a place to gather. We don’t have a fixed idea.”
As their tagline says, “You never know what will pop up.”