PEPPERELL -- When Diane Cronin opened up the Covered Bridge Country store, she knew she wanted to make the shop Pepperell-centric. Being so near to (and named after) the historic covered bridge, her hope was to peak local interest in what the town and its residents had to offer. Having been to several local craft fairs, she had seen a variety of talent and creativity from residents -- yet they didn't seem to have a venue to consistently be able represent themselves and their community.
"(The country store) was really catered to more of their style ... A lot of people did Victorian country crafts in this area, and it was just a really great fit," said Cronin, a self-proclaimed lover and antiques. "People who never thought their things would really sell were frustrated because they put all this time and talent in."
Cronin also needed to suit the needs of her customers.
"People kept coming into the store saying, 'What do you have about Pepperell?'" she said. "I knew I really needed to give a wider breadth of options. A lot of people just wanted to be part of this new thing and would come in and say, 'What can I make?'"
Cronin's concept of a Pepperell-based shop took off. Upon walking into its doors, shoppers are surrounded by a wide array of homemade goods by local crafters, from tissue cozies to Pepperell mouse pads to self-published children's books. Hand-crafted jewelry sits perched on stands next to shelves of scented soaps; in the back, shoppers can find locally harvested honey, all labeled with self-designed stickers.
For many people, Cronin said, the crafts she sells are the results of "hobbies they do while watching television."
With the economy's continuous nosedive, however, the shop has become the single source of income for many folks with no where else to turn.
"It really supports people's needs for money in tough times," said Cronin.
Although she wanted to protect the anonymity of her down-on-their-luck consignors, Cronin said it is by no means an anomaly for residents to need such support.
"It's not a single story, it's happening a lot," she said.
Pointing at a rack of home-sewn aprons, each in a unique print, she said the crafter had been laid off from her job with no warning, and had no other income at the time and had a family to take care of. The store provided her a way to do that. A stained-glass crafter with a similar story came in at a loss of how to earn money. Cronin suggested that shoppers always seemed drawn to items depicting the covered bridge, so the crafter came back with a handmade glass image of the bridge.
"I also have mothers who have been left divorced and not getting child support, who are making crafts to take care of their children," she said. "When I hear stories like that, they go to the top of the consignor lists."
The store doesn't only take handmade items, either; Cronin also sells her own antiques, and will consign others' items depending on the item and the situation.
"Another gentleman just came in and he had gotten laid off... I could tell he needed money, but I really honestly didn't the want product because it competed with me. I don't like taking things in direct competition, but I said I'd take them temporarily to give him time to get over the difficulty he was having. I ended up buying the items for myself to get him going on the right track," she said.
One way Cronin is able to help her consignors make profit is by pricing the items to suit shoppers' budgets and taking little profit for herself. Because the store is attached to her residence, the shop doesn't have the same overhead as typical stores. In addition, profiting from her store is not Cronin's priority.
"I have a different value on money than I did before. I'm living a little more lean and frugal so I'm not looking at making a huge profit in my store. I enjoy what I do," she said. "To make a few dollars on an item and disappoint the public because they can't afford it. It is not worth it. I would much prefer to pass along a good price to keep people coming back than to go for the extra buck or two."
The store also supports non-profit organizations like the Fourth of July Committee and the Historical Society by selling items for them. She said she makes an effort to appeal to everyone's tastes.
"(Shoppers) always find something right either for themselves or for somebody else. They like the uniqueness that what they're giving for gift isn't going to be duplicated."