MIDDLEBURY — The words “dejected,” “crestfallen” and “disappointed” pretty much described how Lisa Phelps was feeling two years ago when the Mendy’s clothing, jewelry and accessories store closed its doors at 66 Main St. in downtown Middlebury.
“I remember watching (Mendy’s) close and inside of me a voice was saying, ‘I have to fill that space,’” she recalled during a recent interview. “My community is important to me. And clothing stores are usually in the top 10 of what make a strong local downtown.”
But Phelps — owner of the popular “Parlour” salon & spa at 57 Main St. — knew she couldn’t launch a new clothing store on her own. So she proceeded to lobby her good friend Elissa Kestner to play a major role in the venture. Kestner owns and operates two “Monelle Vermont” clothing and lifestyle boutiques, one in Shelburne, the other in Burlington.
Phelps made her pal a downtown Middlebury promotional pitch that would make the Chamber of Commerce proud, and Kestner agreed to partner on “Middleton,” which calls itself “a clothing & lifestyle boutique for the smart and stylish woman.”
The clincher came when Phelps and Kestner secured a $20,000 Kick Start grant through the Better Middlebury Partnership.
“I probably wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for Kick Start,” Phelps acknowledged.
Middleton carries an assortment of women’s apparel, denim, tops and T-shirts, sweaters, outerwear, lingerie and loungewear from such companies as Addison Bay, Catherine Canino, Commando, Elli Parr, French Connection, Michael Stars, and Sail to Sable.
One can also find jewelry, scarves and wraps, handbags, hair accessories and hats at the store, which provides an open-yet-intimate layout and ambiance for browsing.
Those who don’t want to leave the comfort of their home can shop at Middleton online, at middletonvermont.com.
Middleton boasts a staff of six part-time employees and a waiting list of others hoping to snag a job — an envious position for a store to be in during this era of worker shortages.
The store began its “soft opening” two weeks ago, followed by a launch party on Saturday, Oct. 8. Middleton is now open seven days a week, including early evening (until 7 p.m.) hours on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
It’s no coincidence that Parlour is also open until 7 p.m., and Phelps hopes other downtown businesses will follow suit. She explained many folks can’t find time to shop at stores that close at 5 p.m.
“We’re hoping that (Parlour and Middleton) will start a trend,” she said.
Phelps has learned a lot about style and fashion trends while helming Parlour, knowledge that should serve her well with Middleton.
“Because I know my community really well, I’m able to shop based on what I know what people in town will like,” she said. “We have a very good range in prices, as well, and have been cautious to bring in lines that are sustainable and eco-friendly.”
Kestner and Phelps have hired several Middlebury College students to work at Middleton, thus ensuring the store carries clothing that’s popular among young adults. Those student employees have successfully lobbied to have Middleton carry a limited amount of men’s clothing as well, including such lines as Faherty and Marine Layer.
Building Middleton at 66 Main St. has been a family-and-friends affair.
Phelps’s dad did all the construction, and her brother-in-law Brian did the painting. Her uncle did all the drywall work. Her former soccer coach made the “Middleton” sign that hangs outside the store.
Other members of the business community have been very supportive, either through words, purchases or deeds.
The two business partners have been gratified by the early customer response to Middleton.
“A lot of people have been thanking me, and that’s nice to hear,” Phelps said.
Parlour and Middleton are proving to be nice catalysts for the downtown economy, according to Phelps. She noted some of her Parlour clients come in for a hair styling and then stick around to frequent Middleton and other downtown stores, followed by a meal at a local restaurant.
“I’m happy to keep money local,” said Phelps, who will end up giving around $15,000 to various charitable causes before year’s end.
Phelps’s many contributions haven’t gone unnoticed; the Addison County Chamber of Commerce recently awarded her the “Buster Brush Citizen of the Year” award.
Her goal is not just to make a living in Middlebury.
“This is my town and I want to make it great,” Phelps said.
John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.