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Downtown: Lilise to sell custom furniture by state prison inmates

  • Greg Lessard poses for a portrait with Fred Nichols in the furniture shop that Lessard will be opening at the end of March next to his wife's consignment shop on Storrs Street; Friday, February 22, 2013. Nichols is the administrator of GraniteCor Industries which will be employeeing five inmates to create a custom line of furniture that Lessard will sell at his store.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Greg Lessard poses for a portrait with Fred Nichols in the furniture shop that Lessard will be opening at the end of March next to his wife's consignment shop on Storrs Street; Friday, February 22, 2013. Nichols is the administrator of GraniteCor Industries which will be employeeing five inmates to create a custom line of furniture that Lessard will sell at his store.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Greg Lessard poses for a portrait in the furniture shop that he will be opening at the end of March next to his wife's consignment shop on Storrs Street.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Greg Lessard poses for a portrait in the furniture shop that he will be opening at the end of March next to his wife's consignment shop on Storrs Street.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Greg Lessard poses for a portrait with Fred Nichols in the furniture shop that Lessard will be opening at the end of March next to his wife's consignment shop on Storrs Street; Friday, February 22, 2013. Nichols is the administrator of GraniteCor Industries which will be employeeing five inmates to create a custom line of furniture that Lessard will sell at his store.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Greg Lessard poses for a portrait in the furniture shop that he will be opening at the end of March next to his wife's consignment shop on Storrs Street.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

A Storrs Street shop will become the first in the state to market and sell specialty furniture made by state prison inmates.

Lilise Designer Resale, a clothing store, is expanding into a connecting storefront. The new space will become an antique shop and a showroom for a custom line of cherry furniture, handmade by five master craftsmen at the state prison in Berlin.

“I think between their reputation, and Lilise marketing it and having an ideal location, I think that it will be a very successful partnership,” said Greg Lessard, who owns Lilise with his wife, Ellen.

Lessard said he had wanted to begin selling furniture but stumbled into his partnership with the state “sort of by accident.” When he heard the state prison’s furniture store closed last year, he called the Department of Corrections.

He learned he was mistaken. The prison shop on North State Street did stop selling knickknacks made during prisoners’ recreation time. (Those sales are now contracted to a store in Franklin). But inmates are still making and selling furniture through a separate business, and its administrator was eager to partner with Lilise.

GraniteCor Industries is a business within the prison that makes a variety of products, such as road signs and furniture. Inmates are hired through an interview process, learn their craft and are paid for their work, said Fred Nichols, GraniteCor’s administrator.

Just as Lessard called, Nichols said the most advanced of the prison’s craftsmen were completing a

custom-order furniture set made of solid cherry wood. Nichols was happy with the pieces and wanted a way to continue making or marketing them.

Nichols showed the pieces to Lessard, who decided prison-made furniture was the perfect way to expand Lilise.

“I think that the antique furniture was in the back of my mind for some time, but I just wasn’t sure that that was unique enough,” Lessard said. “And when we were able to partner with GraniteCor Industries, I said, ‘Now this is a viable business.’ ”

Lilise had an informal opening of the new space during an event at the store on Saturday, and Lessard said he will hold a grand opening in the coming weeks.

Already in the shop, Lessard has a cherry trunk from GraniteCor and some antiques. He said his collection will grow as the store expands.

GraniteCor has a letter of agreement with Lilise; the furniture will be made to order as Lessard sells it. The partnership will operate like that of any retailer and supplier, Nichols said.

Nichols, who has worked with GraniteCor Industries for four years, said this is the first time the company has formed a partnership with the private store or created a specific line of furniture. He previously held a similar job in Oregon, where he made agreements to sell inmates’ products throughout the world. Now, he’s hoping his partnership with Lilise will be a model for future work.

“I was so impressed with Greg’s store . . . and his whole vision for what he wanted to do,” Nichols said. “This is a joint venture made in heaven as far as I’m concerned.”

GraniteCor Industries employs about 250 prisoners, Nichols said. In furniture-making, only about five inmates in Berlin and another five in Concord have achieved the level of master craftsmen, with years of experience.

He’s assigned the five master craftsmen in Berlin to make Lilise’s furniture line.

“In terms of creating a line, a fairly complete line, this is new,” Nichols said. “We’ve had requests for some really nice furniture, we make it and then no one else orders it again because we don’t advertise it in a catalog and just it comes in, we make it and then we maybe wait for another custom order to come in. So this is new.”

Primary Diner closes

After four months on Pleasant Street, The Primary Diner has closed.

Rebecca and David Darman opened the diner in October, fulfilling their dream of running their own restaurant.

“Well, there isn’t really much to the story,” Rebecca said last week. “It was an entirely self-funded project . . . so we just ran out of money.”

The small diner at 26 Pleasant St. featured political decor and menu items named after politicians.

“We really, really enjoyed what we were doing,” Rebecca said. “Our customers were awesome. They were the people who really spurred us on every day to keep going.”

But Rebecca said they hadn’t yet covered costs or made a profit. They weren’t certain their lease would be renewed if they did remain open.

The Darmans will now stay in Concord and look for new jobs. David is a former NHPR reporter; the couple moved from Concord to Kansas in 2010 and returned last fall to open the downtown restaurant. Rebecca has a background in nonprofit and finance work; neither she nor David plan to stay in the restaurant industry.

“We’ll cross that off our bucket list,” she said.

Rebecca said she’d like for someone else to talk to them about using the diner’s theme at a new location. She still feels there’s a need in Concord for a diner and a politically-themed restaurant.

The restaurant’s landlord did not return a message left last week.

Free music at the Audi

For four Sundays in March, the Concord City Auditorium will host an afternoon of local music.

The Merrimack Music Series is free to the public, organized by the Concord Community Concert Association and made possible through a grant from Merrimack County Savings Bank.

“I tried to get as much diverse styles of music in there as possible so we could attract the biggest amount of crowds,” said Eric Reingold, a board member of the Concord Community Concert Association.

The four concerts include:

∎ This Sunday: Lucas Gallo, Matt Poirier, Tristan Omand and Dusty Gray. Reingold said the four acoustic singer-songwriters will take turns playing.

∎ March 10: Kid Jazz, a group of local children, and local musician Scott Solsky.

∎ March 17: Singer-songwriters Lauren Hurley and Rachel Vogelzang.

∎ March 24: Pianist Joel Morse and the Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki Trio.

The concerts will be held in the Audi’s lobby each Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. No ticket is required.

Intown’s annual meeting

Intown Concord is selling tickets for its annual general meeting in March.

The evening includes food from the Common Man restaurant, music and an art auction of Concord-themed paintings, according to the organization’s newsletter.

The event, at the Kimball-Jenkins Estate Carriage House, begins at 5:30 p.m. on March 14. Tickets are available online for $20 in advance, or for $25 at the door. For more information, visit intownconcord.org. (The Monitor is one of Intown Concord’s corporate sponsors.)

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or
lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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