Convivio: Discover Beauty Within Reach

Photo by Eric Tadsen

While Convivio owner Mary D Alton is from suburban Chicago, she has lived in Spring Green for more than 20 years. Theres no simple answer for what brought me here, she says. Mary chose Spring Green to set up shop because of her love for the small town. I wanted to do something that added to what the village didnt have.

Labeling it as one of the most unusual small towns in Wisconsin, Mary says theres nothing comparable to its 1,600-plus residents. Because we have this amazing classical theatre and the home of Frank Lloyd Wright, theres a strong artist base and appreciation for food. She also gives credit to local venues, including the Shitty Barn.

The kind of people who live here support these things, so it gives you a picture of the interesting personalities and thinking that happens here.

She graduated from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities with a degree in textiles and clothing, and freelanced most of her life until she began styling soft goods for photography. My background is very visual.

Mary desires to create things that are beautiful. I love color, texture, proportion, and creating an environment where youre happy and comfortable. Clothing is something a person can have an effect on, especially as a young person. You can look at fabric and say, I can make something out of this.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Convivio will be open nine years in May. I have to keep saying that to believe it, Mary says. She opened the shop at a time when styled photography was becoming dull. Everything was shifting into this online world. It wasnt as interesting for me because I wasnt able to create compositions of things.

Located in the heart of the downtown, Convivio is nestled inside a historical building built in 1910. The building has been renovated, and Convivio is a 900-square-foot art piece itself, from its tin ceilings down to its original wood floor.

My original business plan was to make things available in Spring Green we couldnt already get here, Mary says. It focuses on the tabletop and what you bring to the table. Not just your formal dinner table, but your breakfast table or your picnic table. Those items may include wine glasses, the wine itself, or linens. Convivios wine selection has grown over the past few years. I was unaware of how many people wanted more of a higher-quality wine. Convivio also offers single-malt scotch and a small selection of spirits.

The wine is often organic and sustainably farmed. Mary says she has learned a lot about that side of the business, and it allows the shop to speak to a wider audience. Its fun to spend time with wine and food. Its one more beautiful item you put on the table.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

From spring trends transitioning into summer, Mary says she sees a lot of indigo-blue, denim, bright prints, and Scandinavian-style items on the market. She often explores the New York market, where she recently saw handmade items made from small womens co-ops out of Africa. Sourcing products is very important to us. Mary often chooses fair-trade items, such as ceramics from Portugal or table linens from France and Sweden. We have a demand for fair-trade items, or items from the European Union.

One Kenyan jewelry company, that Mary cant seem to forget, collected and melted down brass ammunition shells to create jewelry. I love that image. From that to growing gardens to taking care of their children. On the horizon, Mary has eyes for introducing vintage glassware, dish pieces, and serving bowls.

To stay fresh with new ideas, Mary finds inspiration everywhere. She calls herself a crazy book collector, finding visual books for design inspiration. Its a little extreme, but you may find an idea for setting your table in a book about jewelry. It might just be an idea that sets your brain in a direction, which I guess is what inspiration is.

In Latin, convivio means feasting together. That was Marys drive behind opening the shops doors. Its all about bringing people together at the table. What does feasting mean? Great conversationits visual, and its life.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Convivios tagline is Enable your table. Mary says that means the shop will help you put your table together so you can gather your people. Ive been successful with my business when customers come in and ask for a pairing, whether its wine or items for their table, and I find out it was perfect. Then its like we nailed it together.

When people say she cant do something like this, Mary says a voice inside her answers back, Watch me.

That voice is what keeps women going and being successful. When you have a group together who can see things eye to eye, everyone wins. As a woman-owned business in Spring Green, Mary feels like shes living in a liberal world. Its when I look into the world more that it can get uncomfortable. This is a very progressive community. I feel very supported.

For some, winning at Convivio can be an irresistible price point. We strive to have a wide variety of price points, Mary says. Theres an idea out there that because its beautiful, you cant afford it. But we are in a town of 1,600 people. We have to have all different price points.

If you havent taken the quick 37-mile venture west of Madison lately, its time to visit Spring Green again, where beauty is within reach.

Chelsey Dequaine works as director of social media strategy for designCraft Advertising and is a freelance writer.