Tumbleweeds in Niantic a quintessential small, local business
East Lyme ― Hours before Niantic’s 19th annual business stroll, and on national “Small Business Saturday,” Tara Wyatt, owner of Tumbleweeds, a record store and boutique on Main Street, shared the secret to her business’s continued success: “Endurance.”
“I work seven days a week, I’m lucky if I take an average of five days off a year. I don’t know how else to say it: if you don’t want to work, don’t open a business. Especially in a busy town like this, where businesses promote the entire town,” Wyatt said. “We’re a solidified community here. We have programs, and networking, and Niantic Main Street that helps tie our entire town together, even down to all the women in business. We’ve now started networking because we have something like 60 women-owned businesses in Niantic and East Lyme.”
Tumbleweeds is the quintessential small business with its long tenure and family ownership. It has operated in Niantic since Wyatt’s father opened it in 1974. She took over in 2006.
Described by customers and employees alike as “eclectic,” Tumbleweeds is perhaps best known for its healthy and curated record collection, but carries clothes and gift items of all types.
“We want people to know it’s a record store because that’s our heart and soul, that’s how we started originally, but I also want people to understand that we’re so much more than that,” Wyatt said. “Music is one of those things that’s the gift that always gives. We can provide a lifestyle along with that.”
Employee Rebecca Fowke, who lives in New London and is part of The Hygienic Artists Collective, lauds Tumbleweeds for its openness to creativity.
When she was attending Waterford High School, she took to liking an employee of Tumbleweeds because of the employee’s dreadlocks — “I would see her all the time, and she reminded me of my mom.” Fowke said her mom “was so cool during her dreadlock era. She just looked powerful and beautiful.”
Fowke began coming into the store and repeatedly asking if they were hiring. She’s now been working at Tumbleweeds on and off since 2019.
“I think it’s a good place if you’re a creative or exploring your creativity, even working here I’ve grown more comfortable in my style and having a place where I could just show up as I am,” Fowke said. “And I get paid! Some of the things that I wear…I wear my dresses backwards, and I show up, and it’s accepted.”
“You meet so many interesting people here, and it opens your creativity,” Fowke continued. “I also love that my boss is a female; I’m going to be a female boss one day. I get to see an example of what a female boss looks like.”
Customer Kevin Gallagher has made patronizing Tumbleweeds a habit. His sister, a fashion designer, used to work with Wyatt.
“What brings me here all the time is I always find something for somebody,” Gallagher said. “Plus, I know the people who work here, and it’s nice to support that.”
Gallagher was looking for a pair of pants on Saturday. He is friends with Fowke, and said, “I see Rebecca wearing a lot of clothes from here and I’m like, those are cool.”
Gallagher lives and works at White Gate Farm in East Lyme. His most recent purchases at Tumbleweeds were pendants — one for himself, and one as a gift.
Wyatt explained the setup in the store before attending to another customer on a busy business stroll and Small Business Saturday. The store steadily picked up business ahead of the stroll.
“When you walk in, you wouldn’t even know we have records, but they’re in the back, because that’s where the big space is. Some people just want to grab the Niantic stuff and get out the door,” Wyatt said of Niantic-related gifts. “Because we’re long and narrow, we had to set it up where we greet people in the beginning of the store and then it kind of meanders through, but people get lost in that backroom. I’ll honestly forget people are back there. The way I have it sectioned off, there’s people who work only up front and people who only work in the back. I have people working for me who are vinyl specialists and have been doing this for 20-25 years.”