The making of Wendy and Jacques Dufour’s eclectic home goods store, French Connections.
By Jo Maeder
“I finally decided which rooster to buy,” says Sheryl Forbis from Carrboro, holding a large, colorful one made of metal. Another piece of outdoor whimsy from the hundreds on display outside French Connections in Pittsboro has found a new home. “It’s my second one from here,” she says.
“Roosters and flying pigs are our best sellers,” owner Wendy Dufour states. “Never thought there would be so many people wanting flying pigs.”
Shiny metal frogs on bicycles, 12-foot giraffes and flamingoes, flowers, catfish and more merely set the stage. Inside the house, built circa 1900, are more eye-popping treasures. French Connections is one of the area’s top destination shopping experiences, combining Mexican metal sculptures with French and African fabrics, baskets and art in a sensory overload of colors, textures and scents.
Filmmaker Bill Hayes has driven 20 miles to find large baskets. He visits a couple times a year. “It’s not just a shop. It’s culture.”
Wendy and Jacques Dufour’s marriage has always been an international union. They met in South Africa in 1985. Salisbury-native.Wendy then completed her master’s in education from UNC and French-born Jacques earned his business degree. They married, moved to France and then to Dakar, Senegal, where Jacques managed a textile mill. After ten years—and the births of four children—they bought 50 acres of Pittsboro land over the Internet as the first step in realizing Jacques’ dream of owning his own business.
“We lived in a double-wide while we put in a pond and built the house,” remembers Jacques. “There were 12 antique stores in Pittsboro. We were going to be 13.”
Jacques scooped up antiques in Normandy to sell here and French Connections was born October 10, 2000. The walls were so empty, they added their own Senegalese masks and artwork. Customers wanted to buy them. That led to bringing in more African art as well as fabric—and surviving a sharp downturn in antique stores. Over 20 African countries are now represented.
“If someone has visited Kenya, they want to buy anything Kenyan,” says Jacques.
People loved the fabric they sold at quilt shows (as far away as California) but wondered why a company called French Connections had no French fabrics. The importation of authentic textiles from the South of France followed, many of them the hard-to-find 108-inch-wide bolts.
A man representing Monterrey, Mexico artists who made metal outdoor art prodded them to sell his roosters—a symbol of France. Reluctantly, they agreed. They sold quickly. More were added. A lot more.
The town has been very understanding, says Wendy. “We bring a lot of good press to Pittsboro.”
Jacques says the best part has been “seeing the whole spectrum of American society.” One loyal customer is a local man who owns a chicken farm, always wears overalls and can’t get enough of anything Moroccan. “You never know what someone will be interested in. L’habit ne fait pas le moine!” The clothes don’t make the man. CM
Read the original article from the Summer 2017 Issue:
Get the latest news about what’s going on in Chatham County with our weekly newsletter – coming soon!
Please let us know what you think – the best ideas always come from our readers. Send us an email or call our Publisher, Ellen Shannon, at 919-933-1551.
Chatham Magazine is a bi-monthly publication that seeks to capture the beauty, charm and unique character within Chatham County.
Visit Our Sister Sites