Stephanie Wilder’s Crazy Ride

When a person changes their last name to Wilder at the first opportunity, they can reveal their true identity to the world.

That’s exactly what Stephanie Wilder, owner of Chifferobe: Home and Garden for Eccentric People, had in mind. But this store opposite the old Cherry Street station is just a continuation of the wilder story that took many turns along the way.

“For example, when I was teaching English at Charlotte Country Day School, our little group thought education should be interesting,” Wilder said. “Things were always changing, we were excited about the innovations we were bringing to the classroom and so we got together to share our experiences. But a lot of other teachers were using notes. Lesson plans they relied on so much year after year that they had turned yellow. These other teachers could have been replaced by robots.

A search for greener pastures brought her to Asheville, a more liberal environment nestled in the mountains. The only problem was that many like Wilder were looking for the same vibe and a job teaching English was hard to come by. One day she was driving past the “juvie” school in Swannanoa, inquired and discovered that they indeed needed an instructor with her experience. Here, he was given the challenge of hiring kids who couldn’t care less in direct contrast to his private school fees tied to a privileged college in Charlotte. These children would actually tell him that 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 liked and could relate to. They played roles and acted out every scene. And I showed them a film version that was set in Australia where Macbeth is a drug dealer. There was a lot of shooting, so these kids really understood what this piece was about, we compared and contrasted the motivations of the characters and they were fully engaged.

However, the powers that decide to impose a standard curriculum. Wilder responded to this Department of Juvenile Justice scheme on her blog and was suspended. Four months later, the school closed and she was faced with another professional challenge. This time, however, the solution was simple: do something she’s always loved as a fully responsible free spirit.

“So I opened a store in the courtyard of Cherry Street,” she said. “I mean, how hard can it be? I always had a booth at the Screen Door in Asheville (an antique vintage and collectibles mall) while I was a teacher and always liked buying things, especially things which can be said to have been made with their own hands. It wasn’t made, someone enjoyed it, and it’s still a hundred years later. And you can see little marks that tell you someone cared enough to fix it instead of throwing it away.

Soon Wilder discovered that people didn’t buy antiques and took into account the fact that she liked other things too. For example, she was taken by the exploits of a man who lived nearby in the woods, armed with a simple pocket knife, who carved shelves that looked like a tree growth that turned into showcase. The only problem was that the store was located far in the yard and people were walking past it. It therefore opted for its current location at the crossroads down the street with much more light. Her plants love it and she does a lot better business.

“A big change: I’m buying things that people like, not just me,” Wilder said. “Also, all of us on Cherry Street try not to duplicate each other. Anything I offer still has my hands on it, like a set of ceramic spoons. The clothes are made by small companies that don’t produce little. I also wear used men’s flannel shirts as opposed to brand new shirts 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.’

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