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Small retailers’ season to shine

by Rod Lee

The curse is lifted.

Snow, gone.

Ice, gone.

Salt and sand trucks, gone.

Television weather forecasters bearing bad news, not gone but at least tolerated.

A handful of small retailers I talked to recently are among the happiest people around now that a new morning and a more favorable climate have dawned for themselves and their customers.

Todd Willette at The Candy Shoppe in Millbury Center, Patrick Moran at The Welcoming Lantern in downtown Whitinsville, Pete Boutiette at Pete’s Oasis in “sunny South Grafton” (his wife Deborah owns the business), Kathy Blackmer at Our Glass Studio in Sutton, Maureen Bane at Signature Finishes in North Grafton, Doug Williamson at Blackstone Valley Music in Uxbridge and Michele Provencal at The Sassy Foxx (also in Uxbridge) have all laid out the welcome mat with fresh vigor—figuratively if not literally.

Other “buy local” storefronts like them are doing the same, across the Valley.

Several of the aforementioned are celebrating anniversaries.

The Welcoming Lantern, for instance, has been an anchor on Whitinsville’s main drag (Church St.) for twenty years. The quaint shop with the handsomely decorated windows and old-fashioned bell that jangles as visitors enter has survived even as neighboring ventures have disappeared from the scene (among them such notables as Baker’s Department Store, Aubuchon, Friendly’s and the Trading Post).

The Welcoming Lantern brims with Americana: an abundance of interesting items to make for a happy home.

Mr. Moran benefits from a cordial relationship with an attentive and accommodating landlord: Grace Hatfield. He benefits too from a loyal clientele, many of whom have patronized The Welcoming Lantern since it opened its doors.

They know quality when they see it.

“I still have a focus on American product,” he said. “I purchase crockery from Pittsburgh that I could get cheaper from China. It was 100% U.S. when I started. Now it’s 30%. It’s hard to do.”

The burnout rate is high for gift shops like Mr. Moran’s, which makes his longevity that much more impressive.

“It’s still fun! I’m still here!” he says.

Blackstone Valley Music is marking five years with a student recital coming up on June 7th at the Community House at the First Congregational Church and band camps culminating in a concert this summer, Doug Williamson said.

Repairs, Yamaha entry-level guitar supplies, book swaps and a music lending library are just some of the offerings that patrons of Blackstone Valley Music can take advantage of.

It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Williamson performs in a folk duo or that Blackstone Valley Music’s thirteen teachers are all professionals versed in everything from “rock to church music.”

With nine years under its belt, The Candy Shoppe in Millbury is a chocolate-lover’s heaven. “No candy store could be in business just on its walk-in traffic,” though, Mr. Willette says. “We do a lot of wholesale to corporations, wedding favors, that sort of thing. Chocolate-covered Oreos are my claim to fame.” To the tune of 50,000 to 100,000 a year.

When told that it’s hard to imagine an Oreo cookie being improved upon, he said, “I know, huh!”

The “good-sized clientele” that Michele Provencal built up during her five years in Douglas has followed her to The Sassy Foxx’s new location next to the fire station in downtown Uxbridge. “Newbies” have discovered The Sassy Foxx too.

“I had a nice little shop in Douglas but I needed more room,” she says. In Uxbridge, she said, The Sassy Foxx is able to tap into “the hustle and bustle” of an active commercial strip.

Her beautifully appointed “consignment and more” store specializes in women’s clothing, jewelry, household decor and furniture. Girls’ sizes are a staple too.

Our Glass Studio is also in its infancy at a new site, on Rt. 146, after nine years in Grafton. Kathy Blackmer reminds customers who might be deterred by ongoing construction on Rt. 146 that there is a back entrance to the studio. Hers is one of the last such studios left in the area, and offers both evening and Saturday-morning classes in addition to the raw materials needed for projects. The studio includes a gift shop and a showroom for its custom-stained glass artwork.

At Signature Finishes in North Grafton, Owner Maureen Bane noticed a pick-up in activity in April. A family-owned antique and vintage home-décor shop specializing in painted one-of-a-kind furniture, Signature Finishes offers Miss Mustard Seed’s milk paints and all associated products as well as Paint Coulture paints, glazes, metallic and topcoats. Painting workshops are a forte. Don’t forget to check out the Sweet Grass Farm fragrances when you visit.

Pete Boutiette said “I had my Long Johns on today” when he returned my telephone call on a chilly late-April afternoon in getting ready for what he hoped would be a busy time at Pete’s Oasis (just north of the Northbridge town line) in advance of Mother’s Day.

His greenhouses are the cornerstone of the business. “I start planting the first week of February,” he said. “I grow 90% of everything here. There aren’t many who do that…these are my babies,” he says of his pansies and other spring flowers.

Goodbye Old Man Winter. Hello prosperity!

Rod Lee is a long-time local writer and observer of the Blackstone valley business community and current president of the Webster Square Business Association. His most recent book is Nance's Nook, which takes place in Linwood. Email him at [email protected].