The big box stores but shoppers are being asked to think small on Saturday. Today is the second annual Small Business Saturday, which invites people to shop at locally-owned small businesses to help boost the economy on the municipal level.
There are dozens of small mom-and-pop stores in downtown New London that offer something a little different, from Fair Trade imports to imported cheeses, boutique wines and unique antiques at stores on Bank Street. Similarly, small specialty stores along Main Street in Niantic offer one-of-a-kind clothing, secondhand books and record albums, watches and clocks.
In Waterford, where chain stores tend to dominate the malls, you have to search a little harder to find those local gems but if you’re in the market for jewelry, is a good place to start.
A Hidden Gem
Established by Peter and Lorraine Grader nearly 50 years ago initially in Norwich, this family-owned jewelry store is now in three locations: Norwich, Groton, and Waterford.
From 1984 to 1994, Grader’s was located in the Crystal Mall. Back then, store manager Larry Dahl recalls, “There were lots of local jewelers. Now you’d be hard-pressed to find one.”
The Waterford store is currently located at Wynding Hill Plaza (across the road from Stop & Shop on Clark Lane) although it plans to move into a new space at 217 Boston Post Road sometime in the new year. There’s a very good chance that Grader’s customers will follow because this is a store that prides itself on customer service.
“The nice thing is we stand behind everything and we try to treat everybody like a guest in our house,” Dahl said.
Grader’s is a full-service jeweler with its own in-house repair shop, so unlike many stores, it never has to send anything out. Not only does the store offer unique jewelry by designers from all over the world and New England too, the store’s web site, which was created by Peter and Lorraine’s son Mark, also allows people to custom-design their own rings. That appeals to young couples who want to find something that suits both their budget and their style, Dahl says.
In addition to jewelry, the store offers a number of gift items, including hand-painted pottery from Poland and hand-painted pottery and stemware from Rhode Island designer Michele Popko. The store offers heirloom quality handcrafted jewelry boxes, clocks, watches, even jewelry and keepsakes for babies. During the holiday season, Grader’s collectible lighthouse ornaments are a hot item.
“Peter [Grader] goes out on his boat and takes pictures and then has them made,” says Dahl. The collection, which began with local lighthouses, now includes 14 different lighthouses. The new one for this season just arrived Friday.
Looking for a Bargain?
Wynding Hill Plaza is home to another small business that is a relative newcomer to Waterford. Nancy Tepper opened The Hope Chest Thrift Store on May 28 and though the store is small, it’s packed with hidden treasures at bargain prices.
Looking for a designer purse or designer shoes? At the Hope Chest, you might find a pair of heels for $5 that originally sold for more than $100. There are winter coats and formal gowns selling for no more than $20, and holiday items that you can pick up for as little as 25 cents.
Tepper’s inventory is all donated, so though her business is not a non-profit, she likes to give back to the community. Each month, the store donates at least $100 to local churches or nonprofit organizations. Tepper also re-gifts items she can’t sell, such as old blankets that she gives to the animal shelter or used eyeglasses that other organizations collect for those in need.
“The great thing about a thrift store is you never know what you’re going to get," Tepper said. "That’s the fun part about it.”
In these tight economic times everyone’s looking for a bargain and you’ll find plenty of them at The Hope Chest, she said. Tepper is continuing her Black Friday 50 percent off sale to celebrate Small Business Saturday.
Celebrate the Season
is another locally-owned business that started out at Wynding Hill Plaza. Founded by Michael and Victoria Hoelck more than 25 years ago, the store moved to its current location on Boston Post Road about five-and-a-half years ago. In addition to providing floral arrangements for weddings, funerals, and special occasions, the store also sells gift baskets stocked with fresh fruits and goodies such as gourmet sauces from Stonewall Kitchens and cookies.
For Hoelcks, the holidays are the start of the busy season. The store is large enough to accommodate a year-round Christmas shop, which offers unique decorations and professionally-decorated trees for sale. During the holidays, the store does a brisk business making customized wreaths, centerpieces with six different types of greenery, and decorated boxwood “Christmas trees” adorned with lights that will last right up until March.
The store has five floral designers, each with their own style, and they all bring something fresh to the table.
“Everyone has their own way of doing things,” said floral designer Catherine Zeppieri. “A lot of labor and a lot of love goes into each arrangement.”
Indeed, if there’s one thing you can be sure of about these local stores it's that everything they do truly is a labor of love, and that kind of passion inspires customer loyalty. With so much competition from big chain stores in Waterford, the fact that these businesses have not only survived but thrived ought to be a good indication that they’re doing something right.