Whenever I tell someone I work in Ellington, I am invariably faced with a look of puzzlement.
“Ellington? Where’s that?”
“Between Vernon and Somers?” (This usually doesn’t help).
“Out by Stafford?”
Most often, I still get no signs of recognition, so I’ll say, “Have you ever been to Kloter Farms?”
In fact, it’s not really an exaggeration to say that Kloter Farms has become synonymous with the small town in which it’s located. The business began in 1980 when town resident and business owner Keith Kloter acquired some property along Route 83 for a family farm. His personal hobby was driving horses along with their carriages, carts, harnesses and leather goods. Soon he purchased a shed to act as a portable harness display for when he was showing his horses at fairs such as the Eastern States Exposition, today known as The Big E. While his fellow horse enthusiasts showed some interest in his harnesses, the shed caused a lot of excitement. And an idea started to form.
Keith had gotten that shed in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, an area in Amish Country known for its finely crafted wood buildings and furniture. Keith and his son, Jason, who was then in his teens, partnered to turn their family farm into an outpost for selling those sheds and other outdoor buildings such as gazebos and swing sets to their friends and neighbors in the Northeast. By the early 1990s, two sons-in-law, Peter Welti and David Schneider, joined the Kloters to grow the Kloter Farms business into the well-known brand it is today.
In 1995, the family purchased a Mobil gas station that was on the corner of Route 83 and Main Street and transformed it into a country store. Still using their Amish suppliers, the business began to carry fine furniture and home décor in the store, along with expanding their outdoor line to include furniture, swing sets, cupolas, and more. The store grew, as did their customer base. A fire in 2011 destroyed the store, but the family was undeterred. With an outpouring of support from the Ellington community and the business’s loyal customers, they were able to rebuild and make improvements to the store and to the business as a whole.
Today, the store has grown far beyond what a country store implies. Says Peter, “We’re more of a fine-finished furniture store, but with a lot of great home décor items, crafts and gifts.” All of the furniture is handcrafted in America, mostly in Pennsylvania and Ohio, using solid wood. Styles include traditional, transitional, painted and other classic styles, all of which can be customized with different wood options, stains, finishes and hardware.
Decorating items change seasonally and feature everything from dishes and glassware to linens, candles, lighting, pillows and rugs. Peter points out that the store offers perfect balance to the other side of the business. Just as outdoor deliveries tend to slow down in the fall, the store business tends to pick up. “They are great companions,” he says.
Over the years, business steadily increased, mostly by word of mouth, referrals, and continued displays at local fairs. But in 2003, the family began to make a concerted effort to focus their marketing energy into, as Peter put it, “making Ellington a destination.” With the goal of bringing people on-site and increasing the time they spend there, they hold big events about once a month. Those events often include special sales, but are also family-friendly with offers such as free hot dogs and popcorn, and activities for the kids like train or hay rides.
There is a lot to explore at the 16-acre facility, which includes three showrooms and an outdoor structure display park. But a favorite for many is a separate, seasonal business that Sue Kloter, Jason’s wife, opened on-site called Kloter’s Ice Cream Barn. Open mid-April through October, it sells more than 20 flavors of premium ice cream from a few different suppliers, including Connecticut’s own Praline’s. Freshly made waffle cones, shakes and sundaes round out the Barn’s offerings. One of their most famous concoctions is the Peanut Butter Lover’s sundae which consists of peanut butter ripple ice cream drizzled with peanut butter and chocolate sauce and topped with whipped cream and a generous chunk of housemade peanut butter bark candy. The community has responded well and people are always easily spotted enjoying their ice cream while also trying out the outdoor display furniture.
Another aspect of the business that has seen tremendous growth is outdoor poly furniture. Even that is custom-made, and comes in 16 colors. There are outdoor dining chairs and tables, deck and patio furniture, planters, and even poly fire pits. The fire pits are on casters, making them portable, and get their flames from a hidden propane tank. Peter explains the wide variety of outdoor furniture options by saying, “We look into the flexibility of outdoor living,” and goes on to add, “We treat outdoor furniture like indoor furniture,” including selling it year-round and giving it its own showroom.
Kloter Farms is a local, family-owned business focused on making other families’ surroundings better. Several of Keith’s 12 grandchildren now work at the business, and there’s hope that they will continue to do so, becoming the third generation to run it. But even those employees who are not related are treated like family, which is reflected in the low turnover and large number of employees who have been with the company for 15 to 20 years. It is also why they are closed on Sundays, and remain committed to that. Peter explains, “We feel that’s an important family day.”
The business employs many local young people as well, and has strong ties to the community. Not only has the Ice Cream Barn become a popular town gathering spot on summer evenings, but the Kloter family gives back to local organizations and charities whenever possible.
Whether you’re looking for a new shed, porch rocker, or just a sundae on a hot summer day, Peter says, “Custom-made is our normal.” Kloter Farms prides itself on providing high-quality, American-made products in an effort to not only satisfy but even to thrill their customers. They do offer online sales, and free delivery throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. However, for the true Kloter Farms experience, they invite you, as the jingle says, to “Come to Kloter Farms.”
Kloter Farms is located at 216 West Street (the corner of Routes 83 and 286) in Ellington. Their hours, schedule of events, and more information can be found on their websites kloterfarms.com and klotersicecreambarn.com.