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The Puffins gift shop in Watch Hill is moving to downtown Mystic, taking over a 1,700-square-foot space where the vacated Puritan & Genesta health food store once did business.
Puffins owner Margot Carlson, who ran a similarly named shop in Mystic many years ago at Factory Square, had been operating her retail store on a seasonal basis in Watch Hill for more than a quarter century. She is planning to close her Watch Hill store as part of a year-round move to Mystic starting in mid December, moving into about a third of a vacant building on Holmes Street.
"We are so excited to have her come back to Mystic," said Tricia Cunningham, president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce. "Her business is a good fit."
"She will be a big draw for Mystic and has a huge following in Watch Hill," said Judi Caracausa, owner-broker of Market Realty, who helped arrange the deal.
Caracausa said she has been a friend and customer of Carlson's for many years, and called her up when she got the listing for the space near the corner of West Main Street, which is very similar in size to her Watch Hill location.
"I knew it would be the perfect spot for her," Caracausa said. "To my delight, the timing was perfect for her to make the move."
"It has given me a new spark," Carlson said.
Carlson said she had been contemplating a move from Watch Hill because of the high rental costs and parking problems in the wealthy enclave, where she said beach crowds make stopping in difficult in the summer and Ocean House employees' cars eat up valuable parking spaces in the off season.
"The business climate in Watch Hill has changed, and it's seasonal," said Carlson, whose shop had been open from April till Christmas Eve in the seaside area of Westerly. "It was hard with the high rents to make a successful business successful. Once you were able to cover the rent, the season was over."
She liked the "nice, open, clean space" in Mystic that features plenty of windows and parking. She also enjoys the idea of being located in the midst of three restaurants.
Known for her beautiful gift wrap, Carlson said Puffins will continue to focus on the sale of art glass, pottery, woodworking, fine art and handmade jewelry that once led a trade magazine to name her business one of the top craft retailers in the United States. The store's fare includes glass from nationally recognized artists, and about 90 percent of her products are American made or produced.
Carlson, a Westerly resident, said her daughter, Betina Gunther, will be working with her full time, and she has several reliable part-timers whom she will bring from Watch Hill. The store will be open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m., with extended hours at least three nights a week and every day in the summer.
"There goes my vacation," Carlson laughed.
Some downtown retailers have groused over the past year about traffic and parking problems associated with bridge-repair and streetscape-improvement projects. But Carlson said she isn't concerned about the ongoing work so long as people are able to get to her store.