In her resplendent new location at 204 Sturtevant St. in Norwich, Small Potatoes Artisan Crafts & Unique Gifts owner Erica Sullivan-Corbett has come full circle.
Her very first job was in this shopping center, in the building right behind where Small Potatoes now sits, she says, gesturing and remembering her days as a bagger at Big Y.
Today, this sweet little area is undergoing a renaissance. Now called the Yantic River Plaza, the center is home to Coleman Pediatric Therapy, Dexter’s Liberty Safe shop, and CrossFit Payback, as well as a new vintage furniture store going in right next door. “It’s exciting to see small business owners putting down anchors in town,” Erica says.
“We’re really seeing a rebirth in Norwich identity and community pride,” she says, explaining that state and city-themed items are very popular and difficult to keep on the shelves. One of the most striking is a ceramic ornament in the shape of Connecticut with a sparkling, geode-like effect in the center.
“Connection to place and community is a comfort for people”, Erica explains. Knowing local business owners, knowing the creator or the artist behind a gift nurtures a feeling of belonging that is increasingly meaningful in our screen-driven society. Black Friday and Small Business Saturday will be super fun days to visit the store, but those seeking customized items are encouraged to stop in soon, to give the artisans time to fill orders.
Erica says the area is also seeing a rebirth of interest in older arts, like quilling, cross-stitch, and crochet.
“It makes me so happy when people come in and say, ‘My memére [grandmother] used to make these socks,’” she says, gesturing to a colorful display.
Sometimes people hear the term ‘artisan’ and think big prices and esoteric products. Not so at Small Potatoes, where the emphasis is on small-batch, personally handcrafted goods.
One of her favorite parts of her work, Erica says, is scouting for the unique, the memorable, the inspirational. Nearly every item in the shop is aconversation piece. Take the Patent Artwork series by John Pattenden, who expertly applies color and illustration to historic patents, bringing the innovations of time to life once more. Near the doorway a pile of impossibly plump, argyle cats peek cheerfully out of a basket—just asking to be lined up on a windowsill on a brisk day. The jewelry selection too is carefully curated, from small pinecones preserved in a smooth resin pendant by Spirited Touch, to a curious line of earrings by Bits and Oddments. On a nearby display, an eye-catching bracelet is in the shape of a pair of scissors.
“I think nearly every hairdresser in Norwich owns that bracelet by now,” Erica smiles.
An ethereal collection of ornaments hangs in the window; in each round glass globe a single white feather captures the light.
These ornaments are often bought or given as a memorial token, Erica observes. “People come in here for a lot of reasons, to find something special for someone. But they also come in to find something comforting for themselves. They come in when they’ve had a bad doctor’s appointment. They come in just to visit. This community is really incredible,” she adds. “During storms I have had people stopping in just to make sure we’re OK.”
And the growth of her community has yielded some heartwarming surprises. One of the shop’s featured local artists is Richard Longo, is a woodworker who crafts perfectly round bowls hewn from spalted wood. Turns out, he also knew Erica’s father.
“He came back in and brought a few photographs of my dad when he was younger,” she says. “That was special. That was really something.”
Follow Small Potatoes on Facebook for information on upcoming events; which are also posted online at www.smallpotatoescraftsandgifts.com. The Yantic River Plaza is located at the junction of Sturtevant and Pleasant streets. Store hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; and weekends 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Call 860-705-9957 for more information.