EXETER — Almost two years after opening Crafted New England in downtown Exeter, owner Kyle Eldridge is expanding his business with a second location in town.
The move seems appropriate for the 2008 Exeter High School graduate who went to college for entrepreneurship.
The second location, called New England Mercantile Home, is expected to open soon in space at 154 Water St., where customers can find a selection of home décor, furniture, textiles, and an array of other home goods. The new space at the corner of Center and Water streets previously housed The Masiello Group and has undergone extensive renovations in recent months.
“With the expansion, it’s going to give the room that’s needed to properly display everything in a better way,” he said. “I didn’t have crazy amounts of furniture in (113 Water St.) but even little side tables or poofs or ottomans that I’ve had in here, no one even knew they were for sale, they thought they were just display.”
The new home store will have furniture on the floor that can be purchased that day. “You can go over there, you can sit on things, you can touch things and clearly see that it is for sale,” he said.
The existing location at 113 Water St., currently known as Crafted New England, will be rebranded as New England Mercantile.
“Because it truly has become mercantile,” he said. “A mercantile basically is like a small assortment of everything. It’s trying to be that go-to store for something unique and different, but you could find, literally anything.”
From the corporate world to owning his own business
Eldridge worked in corporate retail after college, spending time as a store designer, and a long stint with Ralph Lauren. But when he lost his job at the start of the pandemic, he knew it was time to shift gears and become his own boss. His first venture was selling homemade soy candles he had been making since 2014.
He opened Crafted New England 18 months ago, but realized within a month of opening that the space was too small for everything he wanted to do.
“The store kept getting fuller and fuller as I was introducing more things and it doesn’t go over well with everybody,” he said. “Some people actually like how packed it is and they feel like it’s almost like a treasure hunt as they walk around the store several times.”
Eldridge knew that while some enjoyed that aspect, it was not ideal. “I don’t want everyone to feel like they have to hunt to find things,” he said. “You obviously want to make that customer experience easy and it’s not super easy in here right now.”
Unique items you can’t find anywhere else
At the heart of his philosophy at both locations is a desire to offer unique products, from smaller companies, with real customer service. Eldridge is often the only one working at the store but makes a point to let customers know he is there for them.
“I want to give to my customers is that feeling of being appreciated,” he said. “They feel like their money is going somewhere, not just in the abyss of the corporate world. Their money is going to a very small business that is reinvesting it back in. The goal is to just keep expanding and offer these things that you just can’t get in big box.”
While his focus initially was on local products, Eldridge has expanded his scope to include products from outside the area. He travels frequently in search of new merchandise to add to the store and even finds cool offerings on vacation, such as the felted sea animals he discovered on a recent trip to Ireland with his family.
“Even though a lot of products I have now might not be technically locally handmade, they’re still extremely small companies,” he said. “Right now, I’m finding a lot of things made in Europe, for example, which are super high quality. They’re handmade in Europe, so it’s still not being mass-produced by some super large company.”
While he didn’t set out to become a store that offered sustainable and eco-friendly products, he’s found more available and prioritizes them whenever possible. “It’s just something that I think going forward, like it should just be more common,” he said.
His line of clothing from Fair Harbor, which is sustainable and made from recycled water bottles, is just one example of how the store has begun to emphasize eco-friendly and sustainable products. Other examples are peppered throughout the store.
“There are table linens on the front of that table that are made from recycled denim and recycled cotton,” he said. “And in choosing table linens, if I can choose that versus someone that just mass produces it, why not chose the recycled option?”
He is hoping to open New England Mercantile Home with limited hours in a few weeks and gradually expand as the word gets out. The original shop will be open the same hours with extended hours over the summer months.
While the past 18 months have been a lot of work, Eldridge loves being his own boss and the ability to customize the offerings in his shops. “For me, it’s like just endless possibilities. I can change the store as much or as frequently as I want and kind of play around with different things,” he said. “It’s total creative freedom.”