To a visitor, The Velvet Mill is a sprawling exploration of the funky (curios, antiques, and records) to the delicious (cupcakes, cheese, pizza, beer) that provides for a fun afternoon. Not to mention, dogs are welcome.
And for tenants, a space at the Mill is a chance to launch or expand a business in a spot with lower overhead than many surrounding areas (read: high-rent tourist districts) and the flexibility to set your own hours.
It’s still finding its way, but The Velvet Mill is proving itself as a must-visit spot in southeastern Connecticut and a successful reuse story.
Located in a sprawling old building at 22 Bayview Avenue in Stonington Borough, the Mill is home to artists, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. It includes a popular local brewery, a bakery, a cheese shop and a pizza place as well as antiques stores, gift shops, home decor, fitness classes, a psychic medium, a vinyl record shop, and an industrial supply company.
On Saturdays from October through May, additional vendors set up their wares for the weekly Farmers Market before it moves outside to the Town Docks again.
For Jennifer Keilty, Indigo Elephant is her shot at a longstanding dream. The store offers gifts, accessories, and Fair Trade items and has been in The Velvet Mill since November 2017.
Keilty owns Perks & Corks in Westerly with her husband and also worked full-time as a hairdresser. When she hit 20 years in that industry and also turned 40, her husband said, “You always wanted a store. Just try it. Just do it.”
Keilty said the space works well because she doesn’t have to be there seven days a week, it doesn’t entail crushing overhead, and she can still work her other job.
“And I needed less stress in my life,” she said, and then laughed while adding dryly, “So everyone’s like, ‘You opened a store??’ “
But it’s her store.
“I am kind of one of those people that if I walk into something that makes me happy and surround myself with things that I love, then I’m never going to feel like it’s work,” Keilty said.
Indigo Elephant has a variety of merchandise, which Keilty said mostly comes from small businesses. Surprisingly, she has never been to a buying show. Keilty said she finds everything on her own, whether through her travels, research online, or meeting people who want to start wholesaling.
She took notes for years, she said, and then started wholesaling herself the February prior to opening - about nine months ahead of time.
“I had a store at my house and then finally opened,” she said.
Melissa Manfredi started Revival, a farmhouse decor and design store, as an online business and then worked locally in Westerly. Manfredi decided she needed to be open more than one or two days a week while also retaining the ability to head out for frequent buying trips, and she found that The Velvet Mill jived with her needs.
Manfredi also liked the potential to expand and has seen Revival grow from one unit to five. The space now includes a workshop, woodshop, and a retail store, and Revival has its own store entrance as well as access from within the Mill. Revival also has a fragrance line made specially for it by Lohibition, a home decor-style shop just across the way in the Mill.
Manfredi makes the 4.5-hour drive to Lancaster, Penn., once a week, an area as familiar to her as her hometown. She started making trips there as a child, when her family would travel to Lancaster to buy or sell equipment, livestock, or produce for their family farm. Later, as the executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Rhode Island Farm Service, Manfredi found herself traveling to farms once again.
Today, she not only buys from Lancaster but stays with a local Amish family whenever possible. Revival has a builder on-site in Stonington and Manfredi also works with Amish and Mennonite builders in Pennsylvania who build only from reclaimed material.
Revival also offers location services and Manfredi keeps a list of specific items customers are looking for when she’s in the field or attending auctions.
“I love it,” she said. “I love every minute of it.”
Sunshine Estar, the owner of Skull and Moon -- featuring an art gallery, psychic readings, pranic healing, and classes -- moved to the Mill from Olde Mistick Village, where she had a popular store.
Although she enjoyed her time in the Village and calls it “a special place,” the Mill is quieter, which is more conducive to the nature of the personal readings and healing work Estar performs And she joked that she doesn’t have as many tourists popping in to ask her to guess their favorite color.
Estar looks forward to introducing more classes and programs, which will include educating people about the practices of magick, guided imagery meditations, and other topics.
“Our work is spiritual, and it’s important that people interested in these areas know how to separate fact from fiction. When you get down to it, it’s not ‘scary’ at all. The things we do and use magick for are not things you see on “Charmed” or anything like that. … We work with Nature, with existing cycles and that means a lot of meditation, not dancing around a cauldron,” Estar explained.
“A lot of what I’m doing at Skull and Moon is helping people to understand their own abilities, and how to apply them daily, in a positive way,” she said.
She’s also looking forward to conducting some paranormal investigations at the Mill.
“Some of the mill residents who don’t rent are friendly and some are not as friendly,” she quipped. “But I can guarantee someone an experience. If we sit there with a tape recorder (for an hour), you’ll hear something or see something.”
For more information, visit americanvelvetmill.com