Innovation Drives Success in Downtown Montpelier

story and photos by Nat Frothingham

In personal visits to three quite different downtown Montpelier businesses over the past several days — the common theme was innovation.

Studio Zenith

At Studio Zenith, I talked with Amy Levinthal who opened her first fitness studio at 50 Main Street three years ago.

Talking about her Main Street fitness studio, Amy said, “This is a vibrant studio humming with energy. You can be any type of person, any age, any body type.” Everyone, she explained, is challenged as they are. “It can be gentle enough for someone with any issue.”

Amy said that three of her clients came to Studio Zenith with major injuries. She added that she works with a number of clients in their mid-70s.

Another woman said this on the Studio Zenith’s website: “Amy is helping me get back in control of my health and regain my strength after a difficult pregnancy and subsequent back surgery. She thoughtfully tailors my workouts exactly for me, focusing on what my needs are at that point in time.”

But if — as Amy said, “You want to get your butt whooped,” Studio Zenith can help you with that, or “If you just want to maintain your muscle tone —that’s OK.”

Beginning on Tuesday September 8, Amy is opening a second studio at a second floor, newly renovated space at 5 State Street. The second Studio Zenith studio will be devoted to spinning — an increasingly popular (low-impact) workout program involving stationary bikes, augmented by Studio Zenith’s trained instructors.

To celebrate the opening of the new spinning studio, there will be a Sneak Peak on August 29 and 30 with a 45-minute spinning ride followed by champagne and strawberries. Amy is asking participants to donate $30. “It’s to help me with the start-up costs,” she said.

What drives Amy in her work and outreach at Studio Zenith is an open-hearted acceptance. “Everyone is welcome. It’s not cultish. It’s not about your outfit. You don’t have to know how to ride a bike. You don’t have to have the cycling shoes, the expensive sports bra. You can get strong and fit without getting injured,” she said.

The Painted Pear

Jennifer Overton of the Painted Pear with Jessie.

Jennifer Overton of the Painted Pear with Jessie.

Jennifer Overton is the owner and artist of the Painted Pear, a home décor business at 8 State Street.

Overton has a degree in painting and printmaking from Syracuse University, but she’s spent most of her career life as an administrator. “I became a very good administrative assistant,” she said.

But that was not her passion. Her passion was art. Her passion was painting and though she’s never run a business before and just got started at the Painted Pear on June 1 — Overton said, “I’m doing exactly what my passion is.”

On the day of my visit to the Painted Pear, Overton was just getting ready for a trip to New York City’s Javitts  Center for a day or two at “New York Now,” a national gift, design and home show.

The Painted Pear is an intimate space full of objects new and old such as lamps and lights and found objects. In one corner of the shop was an antique medical cabinet in perfect condition.

“Metal and wood are hot now,” Overton said as she directed my attention to a metal and wood table created by local craftsman John Armstrong. Along one wall were a range of lamps and lights and rugs, including washable rugs from HomeFire and JellyBean.

While we were talking, a young couple walked into the shop and took a strong fancy to a colorful hammock from El Salvador. After a few minutes they walked out the door with a hammock.

But back to Overton’s passion for painting, in addition to running the shop, Overton is offering painting classes. Already she had four classes this summer, typically on Thursday evenings from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Overton has publicized her painting classes by word of mouth and through Facebook.

As she described it, the students arrive and set up in the store. At one of her recent classes the students were creating their own painting inspired by van Gogh’s well-known “Blossoms.”

Said Overton, “For two and a half hours, I paint, they paint. They have wine, whatever they want.” And there’s a lot of fun involved. “Lots of laughter,” said Overton.

Number 9 Boutique

Lawreen Conley (left) and Aly McHugh, owner of Number 9 Boutique and The Alley.

Lawreen Conley (left) and Aly McHugh, owner of Number 9 Boutique and The Alley.

Since it opened in downtown Montpelier at 75 Main Street in 2006 — No. 9 Boutique has come to be known locally as a women’s clothing and fashion shop. But as recently as May and June — No. 9 Boutique has taken a space at the back of the store and turned it into what’s called “The Alley” — a space devoted to antiques of all kinds — tables, chairs, lamps, pottery — household objects of all kinds that are turning up at church sales, yard sales estate sales and the like.

According to No. 9 Boutique’s owner Aly McHugh — what happened was this. “I became overwhelmed with the size of the space and filling it.”

So McHugh asked herself this question, “What else could I bring in — to fill the space that would enlarge my customer base?”

“Last fall,” McHugh continued, “a yoga studio moved in. I thought that was a great idea.” But the studio moved out this past April. It was then that McHugh hit on the idea of creating a space at the back of her shop for antiques and objects of all kinds that are turning up at yard sales, estate sales, church sales.

McHugh is working with seven consigners who troll these sales. On the day of my visit to “The Alley” at No. 9 Boutique I saw a beautiful circular dining room table and a number of bureaus. According to McHugh, “Bureaus are moving. Cabinetry is moving.”

I looked at a handsome three-drawer stand, a piece of furniture that might find a home under a mirror in a front hallway. McHugh said that in June, the first full month, The Alley sold 95 pieces. “In July,” she said, “We sold 113 pieces.” And adding a space for antiques, furniture and other objects is doing what she hoped it would do. “My customer base is expanding,” she said.

McHugh is no stranger to the retail space at 75 Main Street. Her grandfather, Paul Lincoln started his business as Grey’s Department Store at 75 Main Street. But the flood of 1992 forced him to close. “Being a retailer is in my blood,” McHugh said. “It’s more about interactions with my customers than selling the products. I do it because I love the customers.”

As a child growing up, McHugh’s first job was at a wrapping station at Gray’s. “Right over there,” she said, pointing to a corner at the front of the shop. “I was 12,” she said

Her grandfather sold everything from luggage to fabric, and coming back to Montpelier to start No. 9 Boutique in 2006, she said, “was like coming home.”

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