Mystic's quaint and quirky Emporium moves toward final sale

The Mystic Emporium on Friday. The owners of The Emporium have announced that they will be closing the gift shop as early as June.

Mystic - At The Emporium gift shop, where ballerina figurines, owl pocketbooks, vintage cigarette lighters and fishnet stockings lay side by side, the end of an era is at hand.

Longtime owners Robert Palmer Bankel and Evan John Nickles say they have had some serious conversations about selling the historic 1859 Water Street building, which has been listed for $799,000 for more than a year. They have announced a planned closure of what has been lovingly known as the Mystic Emporium as early as June in anticipation of a sale, since none of the proposed new owners would be using the space for a gift shop.

But now Bankel and Nickles have thrown a wrinkle into their plans by announcing that they are trying to sell the downtown business and the Mystic Emporium name separate from the building, asking $100,000 for some of the shop's signature pieces, goodwill and quirky atmosphere.

"It's a fun place to come to," said Louie DeMoura of Noank, who popped in last week after hearing of the shop's expected closure. "It's a fun place to just be around."

But if The Emporium is to continue, it appears as if it will need to find a new location.

Co-owner Nickles said he had been resigned to just closing up shop and letting The Emporium fade into history. He created signs announcing the gift shop's End of an Era Closing Sale with the expectation of selling down inventory and just letting go of a business he had nurtured for 35 years, after original owners Lee Howard and Paul White sold it to him in the late 1970s.

But then word about the closure spread on Facebook, and within a day or so the notice had been shared more than 2,000 times. People started streaming into the shop, taking pictures, setting up video cameras and telling Nickles that they couldn't imagine Mystic without The Emporium.

One patron told Nickles: "How can you shut this door? This is Mystic. This is the real Mystic. I've known about this since I was a kid."

This outpouring of emotion caused Nickles to offer the business for sale separate from the building. He pointed out that there are at least half a dozen retail spaces on Main Street alone where an entrepreneur might want to move the nearly half-century-old Mystic Emporium business.

"It would be really great if someone would champion it," said store manager Cindy Hackett Cobb, who has worked in the store for two decades.

Nickles is selling The Emporium to concentrate on the House of 1833 bed and breakfast in Old Mystic that he is operating with partner Bankel - who just last year sold his own gift shop, the Fantastic Umbrella Factory in Charlestown, R.I.

Nickles said that if all offers on the 4,250-square-foot Emporium building were essentially the same, he would prefer selling to someone who had a similar reverence for history and vision about how to use the space. But he agreed with listing agent Judi Caracausa, broker-owner of Market Realty, who said the main goal is to attain the "highest and best offer" on the property.

Meanwhile, a going-out-of business sale has begun at The Emporium, with items initially selling at 10 percent to 75 percent off the original prices. As time goes on, prices on a crazy assortment of items - such as the five jukeboxes, two World War II-era pinball machines, cast iron stoves, Hillary Clinton hand puppet, Spiro Agnew jigsaw puzzle and Wigglely Gigglely frog magnet - are likely to come down even more.

One of the key pieces that would go along with any sale of the business is the brass cash register given to Nickles by the late Westerly Sun newspaper owner George Utter. Nickles recalled that it took four men to move the still-operating register to The Emporium.

"George told me he made his first $1 million on that register," Nickles said. "It's my good-luck register. We still use it."

Store manager Cindy Hackett Cobb works at the Mystic Emporium on a quiet Friday. The owners of The Emporium have announced that they will be closing the store as early as June.
Store manager Cindy Hackett Cobb works at the Mystic Emporium on a quiet Friday. The owners of The Emporium have announced that they will be closing the store as early as June.
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