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New London - A new missionary of the fair-trade movement in the region has reopened the Flavours of Life gift shop on Bank Street, ready to take over a store and a vision pioneered by David Lewis and Marcie Boyer.
Ellen Cummings, a city resident who had no retail experience before reopening the store in August, said she at first felt downhearted at hearing Lewis and Boyer were giving up the shop that she loved. But a few minutes later Cummings felt galvanized at the thought that she could be the one to run it, despite a career that previously had revolved around early childhood education, the last few years as director of the Mitchell College Children's Learning Center before it closed a year and a half ago.
"I'm really hopeful about downtown New London," said Cummings, a native of Maine. "I remember when Portland, Maine, was very much like New London."
Cummings said the city is starting to come around, with some dynamic new restaurants and interesting shops. It is on the cusp of being recognized as a great place to live and do business, she said.
"I love being right across from Hygienic Art because there's always something going on," she said. "I think we need about 15 more little shops to give people more of a reason to come downtown."
At the 1,200-square-foot Flavours of Life, Cummings has given the store a makeover and brought in new inventory that sparkles with earthy life. Christmas ornaments, scarves, handbags, belts, wooden bowls, pincushions, jewelry and an assortment of decorative items dominate the store, but Cummings takes the greatest delight in fair-trade principles that include dealing only with business eschewing child labor, embracing sustainable practices, paying a fair wage and providing good working conditions.
"I love the mission of this store," Cummings said. "I like the products that are made from recycled things."
Flavours of Life has bags and wallets made from old phone books, plus other items developed using old videotapes, aluminum pop tops, glass and paper. Even discarded gourds and taguanuts and scraps from the sari industry find a new and decorative use in Cummings' shop.
Cummings said people are getting used to the idea that Flavours of Life has a new owner with a slightly new take on fair-trade fare, following the pioneering efforts of former owners Boyer and Lewis to introduce southeastern Connecticut to the concept eight years ago.
"This past weekend was extraordinarily good," Cummings said earlier this month. "Mostly, people are excited the store is still open."
Flavours of Life
Owner: Ellen Cummings
Address: 86 Bank St., New London
Hours: Open seven days, 11-6 Mon.-Sat, 11-4 Sunday