BRATTLEBORO >>After 40 years of serving the customers at Zephyr Designs, co-owner, Robert Clements will retire and begin a new journey in life.
Zephyr Designs, located at 129 Main Street, has been a prominent part of Brattleboro's downtown scene since 1975, selling art supplies and custom picture framing. The members of Clements' staff, who have all worked alongside him anywhere from 10 to 33 years, have acknowledged him as a sociable guy, who is deserving of a thank you or "see you later" retirement party that is open to the public. An open house to celebrate Robert's years as a businessman, will be held on Sunday, Dec. 20, from 2 to 6 p.m at the store.
"At some point you have to make a distinction between what is a job and what is a life's work, and to have been given the opportunity to touch as many people's lives as I have been able to do ..." Clements voiced trailed off, as he cried and tried to continue his thought. "Is so important." Clements reflected on the warm community and described it through a recent instance where someone passing by on the street came up to him and hugged him.
The store will continue to operate during its normal business hours, and Clement's brother, John, will take over Robert's position. John has worked at Zephyr for over 30 years and hopes to expand some aspects of the store such as ready-made frames, which means they are already constructed, opposed to custom designs, which is one of John's specialities at Zephyr Designs. He also hopes to offer a wider variety of papers in the store because he believes that artists often want to physically touch their product to ensure that it is the correct quality, something they can not do through an on-line purchase. Some of these include rice and handmade papers that John said can be used for painting or for the pages in a book.
At an early age Robert established a work ethic; he and his four other siblings were taught hard labor by their father who was an engineer for Chrysler.
"We never had a tradesman in the house," said Robert. "We were a hands-on family." The four siblings helped around the house with painting, carpeting, wiring and plumbing. Robert also had his first job at 5-years-old, where he made car door switches. For every 10 switches that he made, he earned a penny.
"I have been working ever since," said Robert.
As a young man in his 20s, Robert Clements moved from Detroit to Brattleboro in September of 1974 with his black labrador, Bear. They lived in a tee-pee, located in West Brattleboro, for two years until a hurricane hit that left him homeless. Robert diligently saved money while living off the land, and was a dairy farmer by morning and a head chef at Via Condotti Restaurant by night.
Zephyr Designs came into the picture, when the previous owners, Peter and Virginia Vogel approached Robert and offered him a deal where they would finance half of the business selling price of $8,000. The shop was originally located at 51 Main Street, owned by the Vogel's who bought it from its founder, Zephyr Renaud. When Robert bought the framing business, he later expanded it to include a retail store for art supplies, and renamed it Zephyr Designs. In 1982, Robert's brother, John, moved to Brattleboro with his wife, Nancy. John began working at Zephyr, later becoming half-owner and taking over responsibility for the picture framing part of the business.
"It's not about the sale, it's about the service," said Robert. He said they try to work closely with customers in knowing what they want to do with their products, so they can offer them the appropriate tools to complete said project.
"If you provide great service, you don't have to tell people you provide great service, you just do it."
"Retirement" doesn't necessarily mean idleness. Robert is looking forward to having more time to pursue his many interests, including his passions for collecting and writing about minerals and his life-long passion for gourmet cooking. He has signed on as an apprentice to the chef at Asta's Swiss Inn in Jamaica.
"I've always wanted to work in a French restaurant, just to learn," said Robert.
All are welcome to join Robert and his co-workers at the open house Sunday, Dec. 20, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m at the Zephyr Designs.
"I'm so looking forward to being in charge and making some changes that I want to make," said John. "I am going to miss him, but in some ways I think it may be better this way. Even though we both live in town, we don't socialize that much, and I think that may change more because I won't see him everyday."