Artists disperse across city's downtown
Artists disperse across city's downtown
WOONSOCKET - At 68 South Main St. in Woonsocket's Market Square, artist Connie Lemonde waits patiently to greet visitors.
It's another quiet afternoon at Le Moulin, the artist enclave dreamed up nearly a decade ago by investor Marie Deschenes.
Mid-afternoon sunlight streams in through large windows in the historic former mill, and colorful paint and artwork cover nearly every inch of the enormous creative space, from the entryway to a small stage at the back of the shopping area.
Lemonde, who sells her own original paintings from an area at the front of the mini-mall, is alone in the large corridor with Yen Partride, owner of Yen's Handmade, a gift shop specializing in handmade jewelry.
"They all left," Lemonde said, motioning to the neighboring stores.
"They" includes many of the arts-related shops that formerly occupied space in the building: the Opulent Squid, Triple T's, Yarnia and Duck Cove Creations. The Arts Guild of Woonsocket, a collaborative gallery opened last year under the leadership of Stage Right Studio's Connie Anderson, will also be leaving in May. Sarah Rose Beaudoin, owner of the furniture repurposing shop Beaudoin Rose, closed her space after having a child. Even the custom wood cottage within the building created in 2012 by Kris Keeble of Primitive Mill House has remained empty since the store moved to Burrillville.
"We're kind of starting all over again," Lemonde said.
Still, the mini-mall has continued to attract fresh energy over recent months, and improvements - like the recently installed bathrooms near the front lobby - are ongoing. Other initiatives, like the inclusion of a caterer every Saturday at the building's weekly craft fairs may not yet have had enough time to gain traction.
"This is a huge project," said Lemonde. "I feel that you have to give it at least another year. It's going to change."
Deschenes's multimillion dollar vision includes complete renovation and restoration of two sprawling former mill buildings in Market Square. The rear building now holds 11 retail shops, and the youth development program RiverzEdge Arts Project has made its home at the back of 68 South Main for many years. The investor has dedicated significant time and money to upgrading the properties and working to comply with fire codes, but work on Le Moulin, the street-front building adjacent to the Museum of Work and Culture, which also houses the popular Frolicking Goddess Craft Studio on the second floor, continues even as many of the tenants jump ship.
"People don't seem to know it's there," said Jeanette Roberts of Dove Cove Creations, a handmade gift shop formerly located in Le Moulin. "I was there for a whole year, and we just didn't get any traffic."
Roberts has teamed up with Tammy Denier, owner of another former Le Moulin gift shop, Triple T's, to open The Artfull Boutique in another area of downtown Woonsocket, less than a mile away.
"I do feel more legitimate out here than I did in there," Roberts said. "Every day we have people come in and it's awesome."
The boutique, located at 2 Monument Square, Unit 1, sells home decor, hand-knit items, locally made soaps, soy candles, jewelry and a variety of other unique gifts appropriate for occasions such as baby showers. The women are also working together to create gift baskets and party packages to help customers with event planning. The Artfull Boutique can create invitations and thank you cards, and also aims to provide a free service helping party hosts in the months and weeks leading up to an event, with everything from favors and banners, to party hats and cake toppers.
"Not everyone can afford a party planner," said Denier. "Here, they can come in with a theme, and we can get it done for them."
With traffic from neighboring buildings including Beacon Charter School for the Arts and The Stadium Theatre, the shop, they say, stays busy throughout the day. But Roberts, who previously only sold her wares on Etsy.com, still expresses gratitude for her business's first real home.
"We had so much of a community going on, sort of like an unofficial co-op," she said of Le Moulin. "It's a great place for a startup. I hope it continues to grow because it's a great location."
Roberts and Denier are not alone in the decision to branch out.
Just down the road, beside Chan's Fine Oriental Dining, two more former Le Moulin occupants have joined forces to create a bigger, better business.
"There's better visibility here," said Melissa Murray, a member of the Woonsocket City Council who also owns handmade jewelry shop The Opulent Squid. "The mill was a great stepping stone but we just outgrew it."
Murray now works with Joseph Gutowski, owner of Yarnia, in a large, renovated space that attracts passersby.
"It seems silly, but people need the right window to get them to stop," said Gutowski.
Gutowski was one of the few Le Moulin businesses that had some visibility from the street: He operated his fine yarns shop from a large space at the front of the building for the past eight years. But that visibility doesn't compare, he says, to the new space at 285 Main St. where the pair gets daily foot traffic from Rob Roy Academy and Family Resources Community Action.
Yarnia, which sells supplies for knitting, crochet, spinning, weaving, dyeing, and machine knitting, will attract some traffic of its own to downtown this weekend during the 4th annual Great Rhody Yarn Crawl. On April 11, 12 and 13, knitters from across the state will visit 13 participating yarn sellers for the opportunity to shop and win prizes. Yarnia, which will also be collecting non-perishable food items for All Saints Parish during the event, is the only participant from northern Rhode Island.
Gutowski's established business seamlessly shares the space with Murray, who offers a "carefully curated handmade collection of posh and peculiar necklaces, bracelets, earrings, one-of-a-kind statement jewelry and wearable art pieces," according to her Etsy page.
"It is Joseph's and my intention to raise the bar in Woonsocket. We need more upscale retail downtown," said Murray. "We hope to inspire others to follow suit."
Meanwhile, validating Lemonde's comeback theory is Marc Morelle, owner of a new and promising business inside the building, CMM Picture Frame and Gallery. Morelle has had past success in the industry, operating Black Swan Gallery and Picture Frame on Post Road in Warwick with his wife Claudia for years before her death in 2008.
Morelle, who previously also held a full-time job at Metlife, is now dedicating all of his energy to his passion: creating, replicating and framing artwork and photographs. His industrious-looking space at Le Moulin includes more than 100 framing samples, and boasts prices below any area competitor, including large national crafts chains, he said.
"My prices are good," he said. "Most people are surprised at how affordable it is."
Morelle's specialized business may have an advantage over others that have struggled in the building: he operates a destination shop and offers a product not found elsewhere in northern Rhode Island.
"That's why I did it," said Morelle. "Nobody is offering this in the area anymore, and framing is the thing right now."
In addition to quality custom picture framing, CMM also makes reproductions using Giclee digital printing, creating an affordable way for local artists to sell prints of their work. Morelle also creates digital collages for special events like birthdays, anniversaries and weddings, and sells many of his own paintings from the shop.
He joins a dwindling but determined community of artists who battle, in part, against the building's lack of foot traffic.