Pandemic pivot spurs renewal at thrift shop



ELLSWORTH — After being closed for one year, Clothes Encounter owner Suzanne Wood has emerged with new repurposed products and has gained a new customer base from broadcasting “live” videos on Facebook during the COVID-19 pandemic from her Water Street thrift and consignment shop.

From Ellsworth originally, Wood and her silent partner, Kristin Godinez, have marked eight years running the store. The two friends opened the shop in 2013.One of their aspirations was to create new items from donated clothing and other textiles that still have plenty of life but are not suitable for resale.

So, with the help of a sewer, they’ve done just that.

“I found an amazing woman who lives in Sedgwick,” said Wood. The woman has an Etsy shop but had spare time to sew things.

“I liked her spirit most of all, so I approached her,” Clothes Encounter’s co-founder said. “We’re creating this little line bit by bit and piece by piece.”

Their shared passion to create things from old things has yielded a line of tote bags of all sizes and sewn from clothing and materials donated to the shop. They also designed a line of aprons or pinafores. If you had a grandma born before 1950, you’ve probably seen a pinafore. It’s the type of apron that slides over your head to protect your clothing. No apron strings to tie or untie. 

For the aprons, the Sedgwick artist creates the fabric from fragments of secondhand clothing and then constructs the apron.

“It’s all kind of developing really organically,” said Wood. “We’re playing with the textiles and what works best for what garment.”

At Clothes Encounter, Wood and Godinez always had it in mind to repurpose clothing, but it was hard to find time for while running the shop. During the pandemic, Wood began doing live Facebook sessions, selling the store’s garments and repurposed creations. Pivoting amid COVID-19 was challenging, but it tapped her other talents as a professional singer and performer. It did entail a learning curve and she was nervous the first few times doing an online show.

“I’d thought about doing it before the pandemic happened but never got around to doing it,” said Wood. “It turned out to be honestly one of the greatest things that ever happened to Clothes Encounter. We were brought into the homes of people that didn’t know about us before.”

“I’ve had people stop me at the grocery store who I’ve never met in my life who enjoy my show,” she said. “They hadn’t bought anything yet, but they found it to be really relaxing. They like to listen to people talk. They like to listen to what’s up for grabs. It’s not necessarily about the clothes. They just really love the way they feel when they watch the show.”

Over the years, and continuing through the pandemic, a small community has sprung up and around the Water Street shop. 

“Being closed for that year, it gave me an opportunity to reflect on how I run the business and make things happen,” Wood reflected. “I was able to edit and rearrange the furniture 800 times. I’ve scaled down a bit. I have less stuff. I’ve lowered my prices, because I can. My entire perspective has changed. I’m so happy to be here to have this store, to have a place to do my art.”

Clothes Encounter is located at 34 Water St. in Ellsworth. For more info, call 664-8455, email [email protected] and visit the shop’s Facebook page and on YouTube at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=H71qbkoNtzI. Customers are required to wear masks, whether they have been vaccinated or not, to protect immune-compromised people unable to get vaccinated at this time. The store is equipped with masks. 

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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