“ Reviewers rave about both the friendly welcome and the finery with equal, five-star enthusiasm. ”
Growing up in western New York, Dave Pillard yearned for city lights. “I'm one of those people who fled small-town America and ran to NYC as fast as I could, swearing I’d never leave New York,” he says. “Well, look where I am now!” Surrounded by peaks and creeks, Dave is once again living—quite happily—in the countryside, running what a TripAdvisor reviewer calls “The Best Little Retail Store” on Main Street, in the sweet Catskill village of Phoenicia.
“I guess there is some truth to the idea that life is a circle, and the familiar calls out to us,” he says. “Here I am back in the same kind of rural scenery.”
It’s been 25 years now since Dave found himself back in the hills. In 2002, he and then-partner Bill Forbes decided that a tasteful array of contemporary home goods, decor, art, and gifts would make the perfect complement to Bill’s existing store, The Tender Land—a more traditional and rustic gift shop (named after Bill’s favorite opera The Tender Land by Aaron Copland; Dave still thinks it suits the Catskills to a T).
When Bill left the area in 2006, David blended the rustic aesthetic into his contemporary offerings, and the result is a unique shopping experience that pleases the senses, mind, and soul.
Graceful, useful pottery, scented soaps and candles, gleaming wood, fiber arts and sparkling jewelry surround the visitor; reviewers rave about both the friendly welcome and the finery with equal, five-star enthusiasm.
“ I'm very selective with what I offer, so my customers can assume they're getting good things at a good price. ”
“I want people to feel comfortable and relaxed in my store,” says Dave. “I have a little something for everyone: babies, children, and adults young and old. There’s never any pressure—I tell people that if they need help, to let me know.
And I pride myself on my customer service—I gift wrap, I ship, and I fill my store with good, quality, affordable merchandise.
I'm very selective with what I offer, so my customers can assume they're getting good things at a good price. I try to feature locally made products if they're appropriate for my store and the price is right. But don't forget—everything is made by the locals somewhere!”
The Cats, says Dave, are “a pretty darn good place to be a country boy. I'd say my lifestyle here in the Catskills is like that of a lot of people’s—we like to have fun but we also relish in being laid-back.
I enjoy socializing; meeting people who come into my store is one of my favorite things. But I also love sitting on my deck at home and looking at the trees swaying gently in the breeze. It's easier to have that balance here.”
Tender Land Home has become something of a Phoenicia institution over the years, but returning visitors will always find something new. “There’s always new merchandise coming in,” says Dave, “to keep it fresh and exciting.”
Tender land home 64 Main Street, Phoenicia tenderlandhome.com @tenderlandhome | 845-688-7213
Finds that sparked him at press time include: elegant paper placemats featuring 19th-century William Morris floral designs, clever baby bibs that hold a pacifier within reach, a chic square platter emblazoned with a lifelike trout. By the time you’re reading these words, there will be a fresh batch of quirky loveliness.
Graceful, useful pottery, scented soaps and candles, gleaming wood, fiber arts and sparkling jewelry surround the visitor.
Tender Land Home has evolved with the times. Realizing he couldn’t compete with free shipping on massive pieces, Dave adjusted. “When I first opened sixteen years ago, I sold much more furniture,” he says.
“I still have some very beautiful locally made furniture, but I've changed the focus somewhat to smaller things that people can take back with them to their home here in the Catskills, or their apartment in the city.” Meanwhile, he’s embraced social media marketing with gusto, keeping fans and friends up on his latest finds on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest with the help of Chris Bick of Pioneer Agency.
Running a retail business in a hamlet of just a few hundred souls, even when it’s been named one of the “10 Coolest Small Towns in America” (Budget Travel, 2011), is inevitably an adventure. “I always tell people, if you're going to start a business in the Catskills, make your business plan and then throw it out the window,” Dave says. “You can't possibly plan for all the ups and downs that are peculiar to our area. So have access to more capital than you thought you'd need, because you'll need it. Hang on for the ride with a tight grip, and eventually you'll pass that tipping point from start-up to successful business. Businesses are like fingerprints—each one is unique and has its own timeline.”
For Dave and his shop, that timeline continues to be a multilayered love story, bringing people together with the special pieces that will enhance their lives. “One of the things that I'm happiest about is that I have my own business in the Catskills and can live here full time,” he says. “It’s a dream of many people to do that, and I’m living that dream. I have a wonderful partner, Robert Hessler, who is an amazing ceramicist. He's supported himself for decades making his pottery from his studio in Kingston. We’re both lucky—we have each other, we have our friends, we have successful businesses. No matter where you live, that’s what it’s all about.”