MYSTIC – When The Emporium at 15 Water St., closes later this summer, store manager Cindy Haskett Cobb will find herself in the unusual position of not having to work at the famous store.
She’s worked at the store from 1982 to 1986, and again from 1990 to the present – 23 straight years and 27 years in total.
“It’s been more than half my life,” she said philosophically.
A resident of Mystic, the Haddam Neck native has resided in town most of her life.
For more than 30 years she’s been in retail.
“I need some time to figure out who I am when I’m not Cindy at The Emporium,” Cobb said. “I’ve been that for half my life, I’ve been totally immersed in it.”
She plans on staying in town through the winter, spending the time with family and friends, simply being Cindy in Mystic. After that she might hit the road and see what’s out there.
The news of the store’s closing took her by shock.
“When I first found out we were closing I was totally unprepared. I was a mess and it took me a few days to get over it,” she said. “People were devastated.”
Most people found the store familiar and comforting, while others used it for “shopping therapy.” Cobb has always made it a point to take an interest in her customers. Now, most of the conversations are of people reminiscing the days where it was one of the cultural centers in town. They are fond memories and the stories sometimes end in tears.
When she first started the store and the job were a perfect fit.
“I think it worked for me and my life. It allowed for my son to go to schools just up the street. It allowed me to be home and at work.
It also allowed me to be creative,” she said amidst some of the antiques and unique items that have made the store famous.
Before joining The Emporium, Cobb gained experience in retail and was also a sales representative who racked up many miles of travel. She was hired to be the store manager, freeing Evan John Nickles, co-owner, to hit the road in search of inventory.
“For the first 10 to 15 years I was the one who was here, so the store was my baby,” she said. “Evan would sometimes come in and shake things up, change things in some way, but most of the time I handled things.”
As for the inventory, acquiring such a variety isn’t easy. Almost all of the antiques were chosen, or are the property of Nickles and other co-owner Robert Bankel. The remainder is simply the result of having been in business since 1965 and of being connected to virtually everyone in the industry. That includes national shows and conferences, a testament to the owner’s sense of style and business.
“They’ve known many suppliers for years, large suppliers, and they’ve built great relationships with them,” Cobb said. “The went to a lot of stores, especially in New York, looking for something new and different.
“We always went against the tide and that’s what people expect from us; something different, something you don’t find just anywhere,” she said. “It was very cutting edge, nobody had what we were selling. The owners get the credit for that.”
“The gallery has been wonderful; what a great experience,” Cobb said.
Without hesitation, as if it was an old friend’s birthday, she said it opened on June 17, 1994. With the help of Dawn Estabrooks Salerno and Rich Freitas, and Nickles’ blessing, the gallery was born as a place where non-mainstream artists could show their work. There were many artists in the area at the time, all looking for a place to have a show, to get into the art world on the “bottom floor,” to get a start.
“How are you supposed to get established without cutting your teeth on something?” she said. “We opened it to be an alternative for folks who had no opportunity otherwise. It’s also been a place where established artists could break out of their routine and do something completely different.”
The gallery welcomed many artists and different styles. From the famous to high school students the gallery has seen it all.
“People are greeting it really well and it’s starting to get exciting. Terry Davis was our first artist to show here and he’s agreed to participate,” she said.
Others have quit the art world years ago, have grown and gotten married; and some have died, a reminder that in some instances time has slipped away all too quickly.
She said the generation of artists in the 1990s was a strong group, very talented and very tight. Nowadays things are very different; there aren’t a lot of artists in the area, just a few small pockets here or there.
In some ways, she believes, society caught up to the store then blew right by.
“Right now you can walk into CVS and almost get everything you need. It won’t be as cool as what we have but it will do,” she said.
Parking at the location has always been problematic and the addition of several more restaurants and private lots have made it even more difficult.
Surrounded by new restaurants and office buildings, The Emporium is a dinosaur of a building; large and old, and out of place. Its surroundings have entirely changed over the last 50 years.
“Its time has come; its time to go,” she said soberly.
The landmark store and gallery will hold one last exhibition, “So Long Peter Pan,” in honor of the theatre lobby prop of the 1950s Broadway musical hit that dominates the shop’s central area.
The show is scheduled to run from June 27 to Aug. 12, with the grand opening ceremony to take place on June 27 at 6 p.m. The Emporium has already put out an open call to all artists who have at one time displayed their work at the gallery.
No fees are being asked of contributing artists or reception attendees.
For more information call (860) 536-3891 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.