Fran Pedace had a dream job. She worked for her best friend at Rose D’Atris, a women’s boutique close to home and neighbors in Norwich, CT. She spent her working hours suggesting pairings of scarves and sweaters, recommending earrings that made a statement or perhaps an accessory that just “finished” an ensemble for a special occasion. Every day she was surrounded by people who liked her and respected her opinions. Fran Pedace was a happy woman.
“She was my role model,” says Cheryl Zamzes, owner and manager of Catherine M. on West Main Street in Mystic, CT. “She’s why I’m here.”
Frances (Fran) Pedace was Zamzes’s paternal grandmother. “When I was in fifth grade,” Zamzes remembers, “she gave me a black turtleneck and a whiskey-colored suede skirt. My mother thought it was a little too sophisticated for a 10-year-old, but I loved that outfit. To this day, it’s my go-to look. My favorite? Black turtleneck, jeans, blazer, and boots.”
Zamzes believes that people should feel comfortable in what they wear. “It’s more important than what’s trendy or what’s expected. Sometimes I get a woman who says she needs a dress for a wedding, but trying on some really lovely, flattering dresses, she doesn’t feel good when she comes out of the dressing room. I can tell from her expression or how she stands. I ask what she usually wears, we go back there.” Zamzes says she won’t try to talk anyone into buying anything unless she senses the customer feels good in it. “I’d rather she walked out without buying anything than leave with something she might wear once and then leave in the back of her closet. I’d rather build a relationship.”
She came to Mystic with an admirable resume. Years with Banana Republic and The Limited gave her the management experience and people skills necessary in the fashion retail business. Born in Westerly, R.I., and raised in Noank, CT, she worked in Detroit and then Boston for years before coming back to Connecticut in 2006. “I came to work for Catherine McHugh in 2007,” says Zamzes, which accounts for the name of the store. “I loved establishing a following and building a reputation. Trust is the basis of successful business. I was happy. I was basically doing what my grandmother did. I wished she’d been around to see it.”
Zamzes enjoyed working for a small privately-owned business rather than a big corporation. There were fewer restrictions. If something didn’t work, she could change it. She had the freedom to be creative. But in 2014, McHugh decided to retire. Zamzes freshened up her resume and prepared for unemployment, but neither McHugh nor the little town of Mystic was ready to let her go. McHugh approached her and asked her to consider purchasing the business. “It became a reality,” she says. “With the help of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce and People’s United Bank, Catherine M. became mine February 3, 2015.”
It’s been a rewarding two years. Mystic is a busy town—a half-way meeting point for many shoreline travelers, and a vacation destination in itself. Curious walk-in customers became regulars; regulars became fans. When it became apparent that working downtown meant being a tourist guide, she created a Welcome to Mystic book for the staff as a reference guide so they could help their customers enjoy the area.
Inspired by her grandmother, encouraged by Catherine McHugh, and endorsed by her customers, Cheryl Zamzes invites shoppers to come to Catherine M.
Catherine M. Clothing
33 W Main St., Mystic, CT 06355