A new start for the Chadds Ford Barn Shops
● By J. Chambless
Bri Brant and her father, John Anderson, have been renovating the Barn Shops and setting a path for the future of the complex.
By John Chambless
Standing in the middle of the Chadds
Ford Barn Shops, a cluster of historic buildings at the heart of
Chadds Ford, Bri Brant beamed as she said, “I can't believe I get
to be here. It's like a dream come true.”
The shopping village seems like it's always been in Chadds Ford, but in recent years it has suffered an identity crisis. Without much advertising or excitement -- aside from the consistent efforts of the Chadds Ford Gallery -- the shops came and went, and the place no longer felt like the destination it was in the 1970s, when 17 businesses packed the site.
That's going to change, beginning now.
Brant's father, John Anderson, purchased the shops in February, and is overseeing some renovations here and there, but it's Brant who is leading the way in boosting the profile of the businesses and moving her distinctive handmade bags and furniture into the front of what used to be the Chadds Ford Gallery.
Brant lives in Chadds Ford with her husband and young children. Her studio – where she crafts leather bags under the Arden + James brand – is in her home. She has grown up in the village, and worked for five years as the sandwich girl as “the wooden Wawa,” as she called it, making lunches for local artists, including Andrew Wyeth, as well as the people who owned and worked at the Barn Shops across the road.
Last Sunday afternoon, Brant walked through the historic home that housed the Chadds Ford Gallery since 1969. “We'd like to get a cafe in the back,” she said. “It used to be a fudge shop, back in the day. We need a hub, a place for everyone to meet. Barbara Moore, who helped run the Chadds Ford Gallery for decades, will still be here in the center portion of the space, doing custom framing and art sales. It will be called Barbara Moore Fine Art. She's really excited and can't wait to get started.”
Jacqueline Winther, former owner of the Chadds Ford Gallery, is keeping the business going online (www.awyethgallery.com), and will be taking many of the gallery's favorite artists with her to a new retail space opening in Florida. The gallery's “Christmas in Miniature” show will be held this winter in the new location.
In the front room, the desk used for decades in the gallery will remain, but the space will be reconfigured to allow better traffic flow. Renovations included patching untold thousands of nail holes put in the walls over the years, Brant said, as well as uncovering doors that had been covered up, and wonderful architectural details, such as the bookshelves flanking the fireplaces.
Her father has installed barn-wood beams as new mantle pieces, and the shelves will now be used to hold merchandise in the Arden + James store. A path will lead visitors to the front door of the retail space, clearing up confusion about how to approach the building, Brant said. Window air conditioners have been tossed and wall units have been installed to clean up the look of the building's exterior.
Signage is going to be installed, she said, crediting local township supervisors for clearing the way for the renovations she's planning. “They've been really cooperative,” she said.
“We're lucky that things are in pretty good shape,” she said. While the shops have changed, the owners have kept up with repairs, and nothing has been vacant long enough for damage to set in.
“We redid the patios and the stonework, and rebuilt the gazebo in the center,” Brant said, pointing out some changes. “We're redoing the lighting and replacing it with nicer garden lights.”
Uncovering the history of the buildings, which have been reconfigured again and again over the decades, has been a great experience, Brant said. “That florist shop was the old general store that used to be across the street,” she said. “The space that's the parking lot used to be where a barn stood that held a lot of shops, but it burned down.”
The village has a yoga studio and meditation studio, so there's a wellness bent to the businesses in place. “We need some sort of ice cream shop to get more traffic,” Brant said. “I want to bring more retail back, sell my bags, have some local pottery. I have coffee from Brandywine Coffee Roasters. I really like working with them. We're going to have a lot of events, a lot of artisan pop-ups, and music. The yoga studio loves being able to come outdoors and do classes on the lawn. Everybody's a small, local business, and they're working together. They feel like this is home.”
The shops could easily benefit from the Brandywine River Hotel, which sits behind them, Brant said. Wedding parties could hold receptions at the hotel, but brides could use the Chrome Salon first. The florist could supply flowers. Guests could browse the shops or have dinner at Brandywine Prime. A wine tasting room would be a great addition, Brant said.
Brant is keeping her shop at WorKS in Kennett Square, but she plans a cross-pollination between Kennett Square and the new Barn Shops. “We'll recommend each other to customers,” she said.
“We're interested in the community aspect. This is the most amazing place. When the Brandywine River Museum opened in 1971, this was the other big destination. We're going to bring it back to its destination status.
“It's crazy that we got to buy it. Now's my time to get in here and make it work,” Brant said. “This is the most amazing place I could ever have my store. This is my life's work. I'll be the old lady on the porch someday,” she added, smiling. “I'm going to keep this thing going. I know that.”
The Chadds Ford Barn Shops will have an
informal reopening on Aug. 16, and a grand opening with special
events and attractions on Sept. 16 from noon to 8 p.m. For
information on Arden + James, and updates on the Barn Shops, visit
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email email@example.com.