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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

New women’s clothing store, Middleton, opens in Middlebury

A new women’s clothing store has recently opened in downtown Middlebury. Middleton, located at 66 Main Street, is co-owned by Elissa Kestner, owner and manager of Monelle Vermont — two boutique stores in Burlington and Shelburne — and Lisa Phelps, owner of Middlebury salon and spa Parlour

Kestner and Phelps were awarded a $20,000 KickStart grant through the Better Middlebury Partnership this past spring, which helped them open the store. The store’s website describes Middleton as “a clothing and lifestyle boutique for the smart and stylish woman.” It sells a range of clothing and accessories, jewelry, stickers, cards and more.

Kestner, who grew up in the suburbs of Boston, has family ties to both Vermont and Middlebury College. She attended Bates College, and worked at Merrill Lynch before the 2008 market crash. Following the crash, she moved to Vermont for a change of pace. She started working in retail at Monelle and eventually bought the store in 2013. 

In a phone interview with The Campus, Kestner spoke positively about the business Middleton has received since opening. “It has been really great getting to know Middlebury,” she said. “It’s been a really amazing and consistent reception from both the town and from the college students and the parents.”

Kestner said she hopes Middleton can provide an oasis for college students wanting to get off campus. She compared the accessibility of getting off campus at Middlebury with her experience at Bates, where there was no local town, and the closest city was Portland, Maine. 

“To be able to get off campus and have something to do and something to see, and almost like a little dose of home… I think has been a draw [for students]. [At Bates] We didn’t have any way to support the local community, or… get off campus for a few minutes, so I hope that this is something the Middlebury students will love,” Kestner said. 

Several college students also work at Middleton, something with which Kestner is familiar. “Having had Monelle Burlington for over 10 years, I have had a lot of college students over the years as my employees,” Kestner said. “I love having college students in, and I respect every college student who is looking to pick up a part time job on top of their studies… I understand you’re in school for your studies and that is the main focus, but I can also tell that employees really love having a little something to do that gives them more structure.” 

Kestner also said she aims to show students a wider range of possible future uses for their degrees. As an Economics major in college, Kestner said she was “laser focused” on going into finance, and never really aware of what other business options might be. “All businesses have the same structures and workings, and it’s about how you give your creative spin on it,” she said. “I was really excited about giving students an opportunity to see a store open from scratch.” 

Alyssa Provost, the manager of Middleton, is one such student. Provost attends a university other than Middlebury, and has taken the semester off to learn about entrepreneurship through her work at Middleton. 

“A typical day is centered around helping customers in any way they need,” Provost wrote in an email to The Campus. “The customer is first priority. If we are not busy [with customers], there is plenty of cleaning and orders to unpack, as well as putting some outfits together to market the items.”

She added that she has learned a great deal from her experience in the store, particularly in terms of her communication skills, through everyday interactions with customers.

“I think the store has become a great staple for the town and college. We carry some essential items that are hard to get without driving to Burlington… I hope the store provides a more convenient shopping location that takes away some of the difficulties of being in a remote town and online shopping,” Provost added. 

According to Kestner, the process of buying inventory for the store is largely influenced by what the customers want. “I don’t have a background in fashion or merchandising,” she said, “So what I end up buying is what I personally like, and then we really try to read the customers. 

Kestner added that Phelps’ perspective as a five-plus year Middlebury resident and shop owner has been helpful in determining what customers in town and at the college want.

Middleton buys inventory year round, typically two seasons ahead. At the same time, they often reserve some of their buying power for immediate use, so they can see what people are looking for and bring items in on demand. The store is currently working with about 25 brands, though that number may fluctuate over time.

In a follow-up email to The Campus, Kestner elaborated on the thought process behind selecting merchandise. “We carry an array of price points to cater a variety of demographics and needs. We have great pride in the quality and designs of our high end products, with the understanding that some items are investment pieces or for every day practical use,” she wrote.

This range of items includes pieces from the Burlington-based brand Commando, which makes leggings, bodysuits and pants out of luxury-technical fabrics meant to be long lasting and flattering. Middleton also carries brands such as Grade & Gather, which makes sweaters, and Just Black Denim, which is made in the U.S. and includes a range of denim options. 

At Middleton, the Commando trousers are sold for $278, while the Grade & Gather sweaters range from $40–$70 and the Just Black Denim $90–$120. 

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“The internet has so many options at all price points, it can be difficult as a consumer to navigate quality and fit,” Kestner wrote. “Our jobs as the buyer are to curate a collection that works for our customers.”

Looking to the future, Kestner said she hopes to sell customized Middlebury gear. “I love finding brands that I have worked with and really like, and asking them to specifically customize for me,” she said. She has worked on some custom gear previously at Monelle Vermont. 

Kestner added that she also hopes to have events at Middleton that engage the college students and the town, such as hosting a jewelry making workshop. 

“I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by what the town of Middlebury has to offer, and what we’re getting from that too,” Kestner said.

Middleton is open from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Sunday to Tuesday and 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday.

Julia Pepper

Julia Pepper '24 (she/her) is the Senior Local Editor. 

She previously served as a Local Editor. She is a Psychology major and French minor. This past spring she studied in Paris. She spent the summer interning at home in New York City, putting her journalistic cold calling skills to use at her internship doing outreach with senior citizens. In her free time she enjoys reading and petting cats.