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By Casey Nealon | Citizens Bank Staff
Hand in hand with a small business’s success is the livelihood of the owner and its employees, the impact on the surrounding community, and — in the case of the Clover Gift Shop of Woodstock, Vermont — the sustained legacy it’s been building since opening in 1928.
The cozy little gift shop filled with home décor and unique items was female-founded 92 years ago and has been helmed by a woman for its entire history. Patricia Eames, the current owner of the Clover Gift Shop, feels the weighty responsibility of keeping the store thriving.
“I feel an obligation to keep it going,” Eames says. “It’s been a big part of the community.”
Although Eames wants to maintain its important lineage, the shop has changed a lot over its near-100 years, but the biggest change in recent years was when the store started carrying CBD-based medicines in 2016.
The Clover Gift Shop has earned a reputation as a trustworthy place to learn about herbal medicine, creating a symbiotic relationship with local farmers and herbalists. With 98% of the products made in Vermont and elsewhere in New England, those who make them rely on the Clover Gift Shop to distribute them.
“People in agriculture and farms are struggling right now,” Eames says. “Farmers markets are such a social thing, and any way we can support farmers and herbalists is important.”
Clover Gift Shop has been open since 1928. Patricia Eames (above) is the current owner.
This positive reputation has made the store more well-known among those who live nearby. In the past, residents of Woodstock had rarely visited the store in its small downtown, and the Clover Gift Shop had always lived off of tourism, relying heavily on bus tours that went through town.
However, that changed when the Clover Gift Shop became the go-to spot in the area for CBD products. Some locals wouldn’t have even known the store existed if they hadn’t heard about the new health and wellness section.
“I hear amazing anecdotes from people about how CBD is changing their lives,” Eames says. “It’s really rewarding to provide reliable, trustworthy, Vermont-made products and know they feel comfortable coming in to talk to you and learn about it.”
Eames was most touched by how her CBD products help people with dementia. One customer buys CBD oil for her mother who gets very anxious in the evenings. Since she began taking CBD oil, her mother has been much calmer. Another customer buys CBD oil for her dad — an Alzheimer’s patient — who has stopped trying to run away since he’s been regularly treated.
In this season of quarantine, there aren’t many tourists to give Clover Gift Shop their business. Although CBD products only make up 20% of the store, Eames says they're what's keeping the sales coming in.
“We have great local backing and great local clientele,” Eames says. “They’ve been buying gift cards for when we open up again.”
Sadly, even the continued CBD product sales weren't enough for Eames to keep the shop running at full capacity. After letting her two staff members go, she had to look for outside help. Fortunately, that help came in the form of a $15,000 grant from Citizens Bank’s Small Business Recovery Program. Clover Gift Shop is one of 134 recipients of a grant through the larger $5 million program.
“I was in total shock,” Eames says. “I wasn’t sure if it was real. I was jumping up and down at first and in tears.
“It was such a relief,” Eames continues, “and a weight lifted from my shoulders. It’s been such a scary time for business owners that rely on tourism.”
How she would use the money was obvious: Eames says she needed to transition completely to online sales. Luckily, she already had the basics down before the pandemic, but a lot of work needed to be done to sustain the increase in ecommerce. In addition to keeping the website current with product photos and making sure everything in the store was listed for purchase, Eames needed to invest in search engine optimization (SEO), which helps her website be more visible to internet search users.
“As soon as this pandemic hit, I thought, ‘I can’t be putting out money for SEO. I can’t pay rent!’” Eames confides. “But the website is what I need the most. Right now, the website is our lifeline and it’s what’s keeping the lights on.”
The grant money helped her invest in website marketing, and since then Eames has reported a large uptick in website sales and curbside pickup. Eames was able to breathe again, and eventually bring back her staff. With restrictions easing up, the Clover Gift Shop was able to open once again on Memorial Day, happily complying with the necessary precautions. They’re only allowing 10 people in the store at a time, as well as providing masks, gloves, and sanitizer for all customers.
“We need more staff on at once to make sure people feel safe,” Eames says. “We want to let them know they’re in a safe environment.”
Eames also wants to be sensitive to those who would rather have extra cautionary measures while shopping, so she’s reserving Sundays as shop-by-appointment days. Setting up an appointment means you get the whole store to yourself, avoiding any potentially harmful interactions with other customers.
Eames points out that some people feel unsafe wearing a mask, such as people with asthma, and she wants the Clover Gift Shop to accommodate everyone who wants to visit.
“I’ll even come in the evenings, if that’s when people want to come in,” Eames offers. “I want them to feel as safe as possible.”
Even though the Clover Gift Shop has reopened, revenue from tourism is still at a standstill. Eames is leaning into the CBD business more than ever, offering virtual workshops on herbal medicine, with a schedule coming to the website. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Eames had started bringing in experts and farmers to instruct those interested in safe practices.
“It’s all about education,” she says. “There are a lot of bad things on the market.”
Like many small business owners, Eames is using all her resources to adapt how she does business. The Clover Gift Shop has certainly changed over its 92 years, and perhaps it’s changed the most over the past few months. But what’s important to Eames is keeping the legacy going.
“I can’t even describe what it felt like to receive the grant,” she says. “I’ll never forget that phone call. We are so thankful.
“Hopefully we’ll be here for another 92 years.”
Visit the Clover Gift Shop to help out this community staple.
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