Person of the Week
Mandy Carroll: The Merchant of Chester
Chester cheerleader Mandy Carroll is helping the merchants’ group spread the word about the “magical, creative” town through T-shirts, Instagram, and the Internet. (Photo courtesy of Mandy Carroll )
Mandy Carroll says she should have seen it all coming at the beginning on 2020 when she was asked to design the T-shirt for Chester Rotary’s Four on the Fourth race. And how did it all end?
Mandy now the facilitator of the Chester Merchants’ Group.
And, she cautions, don’t call it the merchants association. It has, she explains, a more informal identity without the rules that might govern an association.
“It’s the merchants’ group,” she says.
Be careful not to call her the president either, or even the head. Just remember she is the facilitator. Mandy took over in July from Suzie Woodward, the former owner of Lark, who relocated to Michigan.
But, in keeping with the informal nature of the group, there was no election.
“When Suzie knew she was moving, she started talking to me. I was very involved. It seemed inevitable,” she says. “I love supporting everybody. People know that.”
Since she took over in July, Mandy and Briana Jewczyn, owner of The Hive, have completely redone the merchants’ group website.
“We were getting a new downtown, so I thought we should have a brand-new, sparkly website to go with it,” she says, referring to the construction that revamped Chester Main Street over last summer.
In addition, Mandy created another T-shirt, this one for the merchants group. As with the Road Race, the shirt features the town’s mascot, the Chester squirrel. She is grateful to Jan Cummings and Peter Good, the artists who over the years created many squirrel graphics for sharing their files with her.
The T-shirts, along with other Chester-themed merchandise including key chains, stickers, buttons, and magnets, are available through the new website, www.visitchesterct.com.
According to Mandy, the shirts, in adult and children’s sizes and with long or short sleeves, have sold well. She has already had to reorder twice.
Mandy is a constant Chester booster on social media.
“I’m on Instagram every day,” she says. “The idea is to keep the name in front of the public, remind people Chester is here. Come shop here, eat here.”
COVID-19 has created hardships for all businesses, with Chester having particular challenges because of the downtown construction project, which closed Main Street for several months, but Mandy says only one local business was forced to close for pandemic-related reasons, though two others shuttered for reasons unrelated to coronavirus. She points out that at the same time one very popular new business has opened on Main Street, Honeycone, the new ice cream store.
She is grateful to First Selectman Lauren Gister for the help the town gave in the reopening of Main Street celebration last fall.
“Lauren worked with us closely. Her support was unwavering,” she says.
Mandy’s introduction to Chester came when she was 19 and her parents bought the building where Little House Brewing is now located, but in those days, her mother ran a bookshop, Naturally, Books and Coffee. Mandy, who had grown up in Hebron, was taking a year off after her freshman year of college at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York so she spent her time in Chester. She recalls that she even went to merchants’ meetings with her mother.
She did return to college, but not to upstate New York. She transferred to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., thinking she might major in anthropology or geology. Instead, she spent much of her time in the ceramics studio.
“When my parents came to get me, they asked why I didn’t go to art school,” she recalls.
So she did. She transferred once again and earned her bachelor of fine arts at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
After nearly three years at a job in jewelry production in New York, Mandy moved, not around the corner, not to a different state, but to a different country: Argentina.
“At that point I just needed a change; I was just biding time,” she says.
She lived for eight months living in Buenos Aires, supporting herself by teaching English and baking banana bread, which she and a friend sold in local markets.
When she returned to the United States, Mandy has serious thoughts of a career as a chef, influenced by her then-husband, a chef from Argentina, and worked for two years at what was at the time the Saybrook Point Inn (now Fresh Salt). She discovered the restaurant world was not what she wanted, and now she says that although she does cook, she doesn’t love it.
“Still, everybody has to eat,” she adds.
Since 2009, she has worked as a manager at The Lori Warner Gallery and during part of that time she was also an assistant manager at The Local Beat Food Co-Op, a natural food store that closed after several years in 2014.
At the same time, Mandy has been creating her own line of contemporary jewelry, carried at the Lori Warner Gallery, under her own brand name, Adorn Fine Jewelry. She makes the jewelry in her studio in her Ivoryton home.
Mandy says that even in these challenging times she remains optimistic about Chester.
“It is a resilient, resourceful town,” she says.
Still, she believes it is a lot more—“It is a magical, creative place.”
And it has something else that makes it special.
“Chester,” she says, “has chutzpah.”
For more information on the Chester Merchants’ Group, visit www.visitchesterct.com.