Color and texture, handbags and tons of cashmere are touchstones at One North Main in Essex, Connecticut. At the intersection where South Main meets North Main, this charming boutique is all but irresistible to both tourists and townies. “I love fashion,” says Deborah Thompson, founder and owner. “Customers come from Glastonbury, from Hartford, lots of New Yorkers, people from all walks of life. I’m passionate about what I do, and Essex couldn’t be more perfect for it.”
Thompson started her career over 30 years ago managing restaurants, where she learned the nuts and bolts of running a business and doing the hard work of meeting client’s needs. Fashion, however, was her true calling. “I had clothing stores in Guilford while I worked in the food industry, but finally, I had to make a commitment.” She had to choose, and in 2006, she did: her decision was fashion.
It’s pretty clear she’s made Essex her home. Thompson knows the style of her chic customers; neighboring merchants stop by to chat; and people walking past give a cheerful wave through the window. Thompson slips outside to pet a dog.
But it’s what’s inside—on the racks and shelves—that really counts. Thompson keeps abreast of current trends on shopping trips to Manhattan. She watches what sells, she listens, and sometimes she plays a hunch. She keeps an eye out for unique looks, new designers; and she knows when to start fresh. When something doesn’t sell she gives it to charity, such as battered women’s shelters and other groups. Thompson begins each season anew.
The first thing you notice when you enter the store is space and light. The store is situated on a corner, and sunlight comes from two sides (three if you count the front door surrounded by leaded glass). The impression of spaciousness comes from Thompson’s clever idea to group the merchandise by color. There’s everything from cashmere sweaters to silver bangles.
And handbags. Thompson picks one up. “Color,” she says. It’s hot pink. She sets it down next to a taxi-cab yellow one. “These are Lancaster handbags from France.” She runs her hand over a grey felt bag with a leather handle and a buckle. “These are handmade in Los Angeles.” She points out a half dozen of them, all primary colors. She gestures to the Bosom Buddy Bags, hand-woven in Bali, embellished with beautiful Grosgrain ribbon and decorated with a medallion.
“Our handbags are as extraordinary as the women who carry them,” Thompson says.
Many others come to buy cashmere, Kinross and 360, in all the colors of the rainbow. Soft, malleable, kittenish cashmere at reasonable prices. Visitors wander in to browse, and Thompson is sure that her collection has choices: for the tourist on vacation who wants a souvenir, to the woman who needs that smashing black dress and the ideal piece of jewelry for an evening out.
One North Main
1 Main St.
Essex Connecticut, 06426