Widgets Magazine

Robert & Leslie Black of the Old Orchard Farm Store, Coming Home to Orient

Q: How did you come to the North Fork? A: My wife Leslie is third generation north fork; her family bought property here in Orient in the 30s. Her mother lived here and Leslie summered out here.

Q: How did you come to open up the Old Orchard Farm Store?

When Leslie and I were dating some 35 years ago, we enjoyed our walks together on Village Lane. The building had been vacant for years, so one day we asked the owners about opening up a shop and letting us do some repair work.

Leslie’s family owned Old Orchard Farm for over 30 years. We drew inspiration for the store name from the farm, hoping to carry on the family history in Orient, and also because it’s near Orchard Street.

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Leslie Black & the store in the 80s

When we ran it back in the 80s we used to sell herbs and plants out front that we got from the farm, so it was kind of a family endeavor. But our primary inventory now is art and antiques along with many vintage items.

Q: I didn’t realize you’ve had the store since the 80s; I’d had the impression you were relatively new.

A: Well, we founded the store back in the early 80s, but we left after we were married to pursue careers and raise a family, which we did in Pennsylvania. At that point, we just couldn’t find the opportunities we were looking for around here. Leslie’s mother ran the store for 20 years and we helped with inventory and supply where we could. We always planned to return to Orient; it just took us a little longer than we thought.

Now we’re back and taking a serious approach to the store after two years of renovating and restoration. Last year was our official return to Orient. Our plan was to be open just the summer, but as it turned out we remained open until right before Christmas because the fall was even bigger than the summer.  So we’ll do that this year.

Q: How do you select your inventory? It’s very original.

A: For us, it’s about working with the people that we meet and come across in our travels that are like-minded, and we think have a unique talent. Could be painters, sculptors, wood workers, textile artists, jewelers; we work with some very interesting people and then see what suits the market. There’s so many creative and talented people, some formally trained, some not that really drives our success.

We like working with family teams; we are working with a couple from Pennsylvania on some lighting pieces. They are kind of industrial, vintage, old lighting and ceiling fixtures that they repurpose with old Edison filament bulbs.

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We’re pretty excited about another Pennsylvania couple too; he hand carves these wooden whales up to 6’ and she does the painting and coloring. Normally he sells to Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, etc., but he’s agreed to do some for me. They’ve been very popular.

IMG_5583Oyster Plate collection and Large Whale carving by Peter and Jana DiScala

But it’s not all couples. We’re introducing a new line: Old Orchard Quilts. That’s my sister-in-law, Jan Mussett Peyser. She lives in Burlington and has been hand crafting quilts for years. We are excited to have her as part of the family shop.

Or consider our 'plant art', all created by Lancaster PA Amish farmer's daughter:

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Q: Any changes to the inventory approach since you took the store back?

A: This year we’re selling less vintage painting as we focus more on monthly art shows, and our repurposed, upcycled furniture is doing very well . We have a local client base here on the North Fork , a lot of new and second homeowners. Leslie enjoys sourcing Vintage Sterling Jewelry and Bakelite Bracelets; we have a large selection that has been a big seller.

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Wood wine caddy made by local Orient resident, Don Rose. Clam shell pull and picture of the iconic Orient Crab Shack using a heat transfer technique

Instagram is an easy way to see a lot of our inventory. I like it because it’s easy, just point and click and post with a little comment. It’s fun to meet and interact with our client base through Instagram and Facebook ( #oldorchardfarmstore) .

We also have initiated art shows. We’re doing three this year, one was in June, one is going on now, and one coming in August.

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A couple of the works currently on display, by Sara Prescott

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and some by James Napolean - local scene paintings and Shawn McAvoy - Wildlife Bronze Sculptor

Alan Bull is our August artist; we'll have a reception for him on August 7 from 4-7 pm.

Next year we’ll do four; one will showcase vintage art. All of our art shows celebrate the unique beauty of our region.

Q: What do you mean by ‘vintage art’?

A: By ‘vintage art’ I mean paintings from the turn of the century, up through the 50s and the 60s – Joe Hartranft, Rodman Pell, Whitney Hubbard, George Hallock, Wm. Steeple Davis, Rachael Beebe paintings, to name a few.

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 1920 painting by local Orient Artist, W. Steeple Davis depicting war of 1812

We have been collecting Peconic Bay Artists for 20 years and enjoy buying and selling these local treasures. There is a strong market for people that want to own a piece of local “art history.” These works become their instant “family treasures.”

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Painting on driftwood by Carolyn Bunn of Southold

Q: Do you make any of the items you sell?

A: When time permits I love to woodwork. My favorites are art trays made out of cherry or mahogany, and we include a cleat design out of oak .We inlay maps and prints of a local interest—birds, osprey, the American oyster catcher, the blue heron, things like that, and cover them with glass.

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Speaking of maps, a table with art by local artist Carolyn Bunn

My wife loves to clam, and when she comes back with a bushel we take pictures of that, and commission our artist friends to paint the subject . We have a nautical, coastal bent, and a real local flavor. We spent a lot of time boating on the Chesapeake Eastern Shore and used to sail around the DelMarVa Penninsula. We can’t get the water out of our blood; we work it into everything we do.

I also build Westport chairs. They are similar to Adirondack chairs and have sailboat cut outs in the back and a place for an umbrella.

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We make fish boards too, they’re cutting boards made out of hardwood scraps and we make them into the shape of whales, fish, sailboats.  We brand them with an old branding iron from the farm that says Orient, NY and people like that. We’re doing a lot of whale themes this year, not sure why, but surely influenced by our love for the sea .

Q: Do the family still farm? And how was the transition back after so many years of being gone?

A: The farm was sold off over a decade ago, so no, we don’t farm. The return has been seamless.

We met in Greenport, were married in Orient. We farmed with Leslie’s family in Orient and often made trips to the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC to help deliver the crops to market. Our daughter learned to sail out here and also has a deep fondness for Orient. Orient is in my wife’s blood; it’s a special place to both of us. It’s wonderful being back.

One of our goals for the store is to leverage its success for the benefit of the community. On Small Business Saturday last year we gave 10% of our sales to the local Oysterponds PTA, and another 10% for the Poquatuck Hall capital raise campaign. This year we are offering to help the East End Seaport Museum and have offered to host an Art Show for the local school students in the gallery during the winter season. We are always looking for creative ways to utilize our business for the benefit of the community.

At the end of the day, this is a retirement venture for us, and we plan to keep it fun and rewarding while at the same time supporting community causes. We feel fortunate that we can do this in Orient and honor our long family heritage here.