Love, coffee flow freely at ‘Milford’s best kept secret’
Miss Dallas’ Shop is a five-room oasis for unique chachkies and treasures, but most of all there’s love and coffee inside the doors — and those are always free and flowing.
The sign behind owner Lynda Kilgore’s huge horseshoe shaped desk in the middle of the store reads, “Throw kindness around like confetti” and her business motto is, “You come in as a stranger and leave as a friend.”
That tone was set based on lessons about love learned by Lynda and her husband Jerry’s late, beloved German shepherd, Miss Dallas.
Days after she opened the shop three years ago were filled with woe and she didn’t know what to do about that, Kilgore said.
“Then I realized I was here to hear people’s woes and to have a place where women meet women,” she said.
The Kilgores, who live in Fairfield, greet customers like family, offering them cake, cookies, coffee and a seat at Lynda’s desk, covered this time of year by sparkly Christmas trees and ornaments.
It’s nice when people buy, but sometimes they don’t even pretend to come in to buy — they just want a seat at Lynda’s desk to talk about perhaps the loss of a spouse, a sick friend or whatever else is on their mind.
“This is where friendships are created and where people come to share stories,” she said.
Milford’s Santa Claus who resembles Rick George, calls Miss Dallas’ shop “Milford’s best kept secret” and said, “the helpfulness and friendliness of the staff is unmatched anywhere in this day and age.”
The shop is named after Miss Dallas, the rescue who inspired them because of the miraculous way she overcame a severe handicap through the couple’s love.
Miss Dallas was elderly when the couple adopted her and they noticed something special about her immediately: When they picked her up at the shelter, Miss Dallas looked every cat in the eye as if to say, “Goodbye.”
Jerry spent three months carrying the 95-pound pet up and down stairs, when suddenly Miss Dallas began doing stairs on her own, convincing the couple that all the love had healed her.
“That taught me love can heal so much,” Lynda Kilgore said. “If Miss Dallas was alive, she’d be off leash welcoming everyone.”
The shop may have wound up “Milford’s best kept secret” in part because of its location in an industrial enclave off Old Gate Lane at 16 Higgins Drive, a street far from foot traffic.
It’s no retail blunder that the shop is located there as the Kilgores own Data Signal Corp., a custom cable assemblies factory attached to the shop in back.
The factory business, located in Milford for nearly 40 years and owned by Lynda Kilgore before she married Jerry 28 years ago, was booming until the recession of 2008. The couple lost millions in revenue as their customer base folded. They even tried to sell their house in Fairfield in order to survive.
It was that crunch that motivated Lynda to open Miss Dallas’ Shop for another income stream.
While it’s not on the beaten path, the shop has a large clientele all the way from Stamford, because of word of mouth. It’s the kind of place that etches into your senses — the scented candle and homemade soap, the one-of-a-kind items and the friendships formed over coffee.
Lynda Kilgore notes there’s something for everyone and in every price range, from $5 to more than $500. They recently sold an original Mickey Myers lithograph for $450.
There are five rooms to meander through of tastefully staged jewelry, dishes, artwork, dolls, lamps, collectors items, handbags, tea cups and tea pots and painted furniture. The items are new, used, vintage — the work of artisans from age 11 to 80 and in some cases, from estates or consigned.
The merchandise can change daily.
Customer Shawn Talton can’t stay away from the place — she’s bought a bishop’s table, a corner table, pedestals, glassware, earrings — and said she will bring her mom to shop for a lamp.
“I love it here — every time I’m here it makes me smile,” Talton said. “It’s friendly, it’s very warm and when people do come in they look happy. It’s a family kind of feeling.”
The first time Shari Drinkwine walked in to the shop her reaction was, “Wow!” she said and, “It gets wows every day.”
Drinkwine is now one of the artisans who sells there. She specializes in making yard art such as bird baths.
Travis Allocca, who has bought jewelry for his wife, said: “I love this store because it’s so unique. You go to every little room and there’s something that’s going to blow you away.”
The shop was going to be Lynda’s thing while Jerry worked the factory, but, “Now I’m 100 percent involved,” he said.
He does admit that sometimes when the men shopping with girlfriends or wives get bored in the shop, he takes them back to the factory to look at tools.
The shop isn’t profitable yet — not in terms of money — and when Jerry complains she spends $100 per week on cookies, Lynda said she comes back with: “It’s an investment. A work in progress.”
Lynda still runs the cable business she founded at age 24, as well as the shop. She does a lot through her 38-year-old mechanical phone with no caller ID.
“Running Miss Dallas and the manufacturing company with 60 employees is difficult,” she said.
The shop is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but it’s “not etched in stone.” They leave when the last customer leaves and will open special on a Sunday.
Of her customers and visitors, Lynda Kilgore said, “They are a collection of beautiful kind, loving people.”
“When you come in here, you have a Sicilian umbrella over you,” Lynda Kilgore said, referring to her Italian heritage. “People need a place to feel happy and safe.”