It is quite an impressive experience as you enter the front door of Renee Silvester’s home/business to be met by a virtual sea of spying eyes from the extensive collection of dolls, dolls and more dolls.
Following through with her childhood dream to one day have her very own doll hospital, two years ago, Silvester opened her Calling All Dolls store in Cobalt, CT, where East Hampton and Portland meet up at 1 Middle Haddam Road.
“I have loved dolls ever since I was child and my dream of having a doll hospital has just stuck with me,” explains Silvester of her passion. “After my kids went to college and I had a little time and money for myself I decided I would finally have my doll shop. I worked two jobs for a very long time to be able to do this and I am so happy that I am here now following my dream."
It’s not just the sheer beauty of the exquisite dolls that Silvester has in her shop, ranging in price from $1,200 right down to $5, but it’s the care and love in which she displays them that truly emulates throughout the shop, testifying to her dedication to her dolls.
“For years I have been buying broken dolls, because they are less expensive, and I have repaired them, that’s how I have gotten so good at restoring and repairing dolls, which is a large part of my business,” Silvester said. “There are always dolls on the waiting list for my 'hospital.' I work probably about 14 to 16 hours a day, this is not only my businesses but my life, it has to be and I still can’t keep up with the demand. People bring their dolls from all over the state to be repaired.”
It’s the historical aspect of restoring and studying the old dolls that is most alluring to Silvester. “The history of dolls really tells the story of our history as a culture and I love the part of doing this, studying and learning about the past.”
Housed in Silvester’s life sized doll house are some real gems such as her hand painted Helen Kish dolls, her Sawieruszynski dolls and her German made Annette Himstedts with human hair and life like facial features. In addition, she of course has an ample supply of American Girl dolls, both retired additions as well as the new ones, with an abundant selection of American Girl Doll accessories such as; glasses, shoes, purses, you name it.
“The nice part about my store is that people can come in, have the experience of seeing all the dolls and pick out exactly what they want, instead of just ordering it off line,” explains Silvester who has recently added little girl birthday parties to her repertoire of doll activities.
“It all started with one little girl who would not take no for an answer,” says Silvester. “She wanted to have her birthday here in the store and that was that! So, finally I gave in and now I have a room for the parties, which are very fun. The girls get a tour of the shop and they get to visit the patients in the hospital, they all have a great time.”
The story of Silvester’s dollhouse is just as impressive as her dolls. She drove by the historic 1800’s Italianate home daily, watching it deteriorate over the years, always yearning to save it. When it went on the market, she waited until she could afford it and snatched it up, only to be met by an onslaught of nay sayers who proclaimed that she was crazy for taking on such a huge endeavor.
“No one thought I could do it, but I love old houses and preserving history and I just couldn’t let this house go,” says Silvester passionately. “I restored just about everything in this whole house, not replaced, restored. I stripped down the moldings and floors, put in new electrical, new plumbing, a new furnace and a new well, re-plastered the walls and did everything. It took two years and at the end of the restoration I lost my job so I knew I was meant to open a doll shop here.”
Surrounded by her 1925 Ideal, first walking doll, her rare collection of Skookum, Native American souvenir dolls, her Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, as well as her Kewpie dolls of all shapes and sizes, Silvester imparts that she is the real deal.
“If you have a dream and you want something bad enough you will make it happen! I am a perfect example of that," she said. "It takes extra energy to have a passion in life and you have to learn how to make time for it and squeeze it in, but don’t ever lose sight of it, because you can make your dreams come true.”
Calling All Dolls is open Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information go to www.callingalldolls.com or call 860-267-2120.