Eco-tique - a 2020 twist on 1820s retailing


WEST DOVER — Like the proprietor of a 19th century general store, Liz Fryer lives above her workplace. Her shop, Eco-tique, features mostly environmentally-friendly, or "green" merchandise, but it operates from a building that has a commercial history of nearly 200 years. The living arrangement, along with the old floorboards and the ceiling of stamped tin, make it easy to think of the past, even with the modern inventory.

"It's the only retail store now in West Dover that's not a ski shop," Fryer said on a recent Sunday afternoon.

Eco-tique opened in January 2016. Most items are displayed on the main retail floor, adjacent to the sales window. Towards the back of the rectangular-shaped building, connected by a short hall, is a gallery featuring original paintings, prints and other artistic works sold on consignment.

Behind the gallery is a small room in which Fryer has merchandise including candles made from the ground needles of fir trees and place settings from the last U.S. producer of flatware.

"This is like a tree in a jar," Fryer said, picking up one of the candles, manufactured in Rhode Island by the Bedrock Tree Farm. "I've sold thousands of dollars' worth of them."

More than half the inventory is purchased from Vermont vendors, according to the owner, and more than 90 percent is sourced from within New England. Nearly all of it is produced within 200 miles of West Dover.

"I consider everything that's under this roof local," she said.

Prices range from $5, for a bar of soap made with raw goat's milk at the Garland farm in Leicester, Vt., to $1,000 and more for an original painting created by the artist Ann Coleman in her Whitingham studio.

Beauty products, including a line of creams, gels and washes made with beeswax and honey by Beeline, of Henniker, N.H., and jewelry products from two artisans - the one in New York uses the lost-wax method to cast her necklaces and bracelets, and the one in Massachusetts applies a 22-karat gold overlay to her pieces - were some of the top sellers in 2019.

Fryer sets up a sales table at a few seasonal festivals in the area, but most of Eco-tique's revenues are generated by sales at the West Dover store.

There is no e-commerce website, which the owner believes would be a distraction because she is the shop's only employee.

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"My fear," Fryer said, "is that somebody's going to want to order a bar of soap and a pair of earrings and I've got to drop everything and package it up and get it out."

Second homeowners are Eco-tique's primary customers, Fryer explained, with tourists and recent arrivals who have become full-time Vermonters also providing the store with significant patronage.

To coincide when many second homeowners are in the area, Fryer opens her store from Thursday to Sunday during the winter. She cuts back to weekends in June, but reverts to the four-day schedule in July.

"Business is good," Fryer said.

About a decade ago, while traveling through the commercial district of Port Jefferson, a village on Long Island, Fryer visited a store having an inventory of recycled and upcycled items. She told a friend she wanted to try a similar retailing concept in Westchester County, N.Y., where she lived, but steep rents made the project cost prohibitive.

A mother of three, Fryer had worked as a vice president of a family-owned manufacturing company until she announced her retirement when her children were aged 6, 9 and 12.

In 2014, when her daughter, Emily, was attending the Stratton Mountain School, Fryer relocated from downstate New York to West Dover and convinced her daughter of the need to cohabitate.

"We lived down the road and she commuted to school and it was great," Fryer said. "I taught her how to drive and do all the good things teenagers do."

The following year Fryer became interested in the old building at 112 Route 100 - the one with the plaque affixed to its front which attests to a retail and postal history that began in 1827. She toured the structure, which was vacant and last used as a realty office, and imagined the possibilities.

Fryer decided to buy and renovate the building. She would live upstairs and run a Vermont variation of the eco-friendly store she saw on Long Island and wanted to open in Katonah, N.Y.

"I needed something to do," Fryer said. "I'm used to being very active and running a business or running three children in a crazy household."


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