This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Gazebo is really customer-focused, so I do everything in relation to how it’s going to help and impact the people coming through my door each day. I come in, make sure the floor is clean, make sure there are enough pro-fitters on the sales floor … I really try to plan for when someone walks in the door — they need a certain size, we have that size. A certain thing? We have it. Every day, there’s a favorite story of somebody who comes in and leaves with a swimsuit they feel they can wear in public without feeling like they’ll fall out of it or that it’s indecent. The gratitude that comes from the customers — we’re so lucky to be in a position to do this.
I’m from central Connecticut, but I’ve lived here for almost 30 years. I worked for the former owner (Judith Fine) for four years back in the ’90s, and I left. I was in the corporate world for a good 25 years or so selling organic skin care, supplements and herbal products for Dr. Hauschka in Hatfield and New Chapter in Brattleboro. When New Chapter restructured, Judith happened to need someone part-time, and I said, “Well, won’t that be fun?”
Judith opened the store in 1978, and she is an amazing seamstress; she was making things out of vintage lace and had her own line in production. Gazebo (now at 14 Center St.) was originally in Thornes Marketplace. Judith loves to sew, and I think at first it was mostly wedding dresses and incorporating pieces of lace from grandma’s gown into her customer’s gowns. That gradually led into having her own lingerie line, with silks, some antique lace, either trim or full pieces.
This was always my favorite job. I love helping women. I love helping in this environment. And I came back in 2016 and found out that she wanted to sell the store. It was just one of those miracles of the universe. Donna McNeight (a breast cancer survivor who came to Gazebo for its specialty in post-mastectomy fittings), also a former employee, and I partnered up and made it happen.
I don’t have a business or marketing background, so that’s one of the things I’m learning as I go. The thing that I struggle with is that we try to have a really body positive attitude, and it’s hard when people put themselves down. We put little body positive things in the mirrors and tell people, “Hey, be grateful for what you have.” We really believe, from the bottom of our hearts, that every body is beautiful. It’s true. We just need to see more of it in the media — to see models of color, to see size inclusivity. It’s also kind of a struggle when someone has a preconceived idea of what they want, like, “I only like this kind of bra.” Well, if that bra isn’t the kind that fits your body best … we try to guide people to what they’re going to be comfortable in, that will suit their body, that will last. Sometimes people are still like, “Well, that’s what I want,” and that’s OK, too.
We sell pleasure objects, aka sex toys. Our customers wouldn’t necessarily go to a sex shop, but they trust us with their bodies and their breasts. And we want to offer that because sexual health is important, too. We love Oh My (Sensuality Shop, at 122 Main St.), they’re so great — they support us, we support them.
A lot of people just dread going bra shopping, and we take the guesswork out of it. Post-mastectomy fittings are harder and harder to find these days — a lot of women choose to have reconstruction after breast surgery, but those who don’t, they don’t really have any place to go. There’s a couple of medical supply places that you can go to for breast forms and bras, but they’re not bra-fitting experts. It’s not like going to a warehouse where somebody’s just going to take a box and hand you your breast across the counter — we’re here to fit, and we do insurance billing. It’s a lot of work, but it’s certainly a labor of love. Especially after going through something like that, you want to take care of those women, especially.
We are your personal shoppers. You won’t be left thinking, “This isn’t quite right, but I don’t know why,” and then wander back out on the sales floor. We are here to guide you every step, and we stand behind what we sell. We do repairs, we can fix things and make them fit better. Oh, yeah, and all of the money that we spend on advertising doesn’t compare to word of mouth because so many people come in say, “My mother told me, my sister told me, my coworker told me, everyone says this place is awesome, so I had to come down.” That’s the best endorsement that I can think of.
We want to make sure that everyone who comes through the door feels welcome regardless of gender identity. We were one of the first stores, like brick and mortar storefronts, to sell binders — a garment that is used to safely reduce the appearance of breasts. Most of them are made out of mesh. People take to the internet — I’m going by a measurement, but I don’t know how it’s going to fit. If they come here, they can try them on, we can help them, we have a seamstress on staff who can alter them. A lot of times, a little nip or tuck can make a big difference. We really fit here — it’s rare we pull out a measuring tape. Most of the time, we’ll just look at a person’s back and then bring a size. People think, Oh, it’s amazing you can do that! If you were here for a couple of weeks, you’d be able to do it, too. We just give them the sizes we think are most appropriate and then adjust from there.
I don’t ever want to be the kind of owner who’s so far removed from the sales floor that she loses touch with the customers. Actually being here and waiting on people every day is important for me to do.