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New jewelry boutique opens in Middlebury

SARA NELSON (LEFT) and Kirsten O’Connell stand in front of the new Elli Parr Boutique that will launch at 48 Main St. this weekend. Nelson is the founder/owner of the new jewelry store, and O’Connell — her sister-in-law — is retail manager.  Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — A decade ago, Sara Nelson was working a corporate gig, which she liked just fine. But as she and her husband added children to their nest, Sara felt the increasing responsibilities of parenthood and a desire to become more creative.

Nelson recounts how she started designing and making jewelry as a way to express and maintain her creativity in between balancing family and her day job. While her first daughter slept, she’d be beading bracelets or setting stones. After her friends and family started asking her to make them pieces, this hobby transformed nine years ago into a jewelry brand first dubbed “Sara Marie Jewelry.”

It morphed into a new name, Elli Parr Boutique, which in 2021 took its place on the second floor of the Shelburne Inn at 5247 Shelburne Rd.

Buoyed by the success of her first boutique, Nelson this weekend will launch a second in downtown Middlebury — specifically at 48 Main St., a building that for many years was synonymous with Wild Mountain Thyme. Elli Parr will be taking suite No. 2, next to the Schmetterling Wine Shop.

“I’m hoping to offer everything we have in Shelburne, in a different way and at a different scale,” Nelson said during a recent phone interview.

Elli Parr is a modern jewelry brand focusing on “quality, hand-crafted pieces that are stylish yet sophisticated,” according to the company profile at elliparr.com. All pieces are handmade and assembled in Vermont by skilled artisans, using stones sourced from throughout the world.

The boutique also does a lot of sales online through its website. She does wholesale business with around 75 small independent boutiques and specialty stores throughout the country.

“It’s a well-rounded (business) model,” Nelson said.

Those who check out Elli Parr’s physical locations will find more than jewelry, according to Nelson, who listed candles, accessories, beauty and bath products, and other items that can make great housewarming gifts.

Nelson takes pride in the shopping experience she said customers can enjoy at Elli Parr. For example, the Shelburne boutique is set up like an elevated living room, with cozy chairs, pink walls and flower arrangements. And cups of coffee are offered.

“I like to provide a soothing experience,” she said. “It’s serene, kind of spa-like.”

Nelson tries to makes sure her store and its wares are attractive to all demographics. For example, Elli Parr occasionally hosts children’s parties, where — with guidance — they get to make their own jewelry.

“We have a small kids’ section at the Shelburne store that has grown,” she said. “That’s exciting, when the kids come in with their friends and their moms and are so excited to pick out a birthday present. It’s a humbling experience your designs that you’re creating that people want to buy, then they tell their friends about it.”

SARA NELSON, FOUNDER and owner of Elli Parr Boutique, displays a sample of jewelry in her soon-to-open new store at 48 Main St. in Middlebury. Nelson launched her first Elli Parr Boutique in Shelburne two years ago.
Independent photo/Steve James

Another one of Elli Parr’s calling cards: a “charm bar.” Customers can browse through selections of chains and trays of charms, matching them up for customized necklaces.

It was during this past winter that Nelson gave serious thought to a second Elli Parr Boutique. She wanted it in a smaller footprint than the Shelburne store.

“The last thing I wanted to do was open up another location that was unattainable for me — like Stowe, where it would take me an hour to get there,” Nelson said. “I wanted another small-town feel, where the community is the backbone of your business.”

Middlebury emerged as a top contender. It exuded the community retail vibe she was looking for and was a relatively convenient jaunt down Route 7 from her Charlotte home. Nelson received great encouragement from one of Middlebury’s most successful and attentive downtown entrepreneurs, Lisa Phelps of Parlour and Middleton.

“I started spending more time in Middlebury, going to local coffee shops, getting a feel for the community,” Nelson said.

She was quickly sold, and agreed to open her second Elli Parr store in suite 2 of 48 Main St.

Nelson vowed to be in the Middlebury location two days per week, interacting with customers and doing design/production work.

“I think there’s no way to make this business successful if I’m working behind the scenes,” she said. “It’s a very small, local brand and I want to know what our customers want. That’s incredibly important.”

She’s thrilled to have her sister-in-law, Kirsten O’Connell, working at her side as retail manager. 

ELLIE PARR BRACELETS
Independent photo/Steve James

“It’s been awesome to have it as a family business,” she said.

Nelson’s three children, ranging in age from 2-9, are also starting to get into the act.

“My kids are a big help; they like to be part of the business and see what I’m doing,” she said. “(My two daughters) are brutally honest with me, when they see a design they don’t like, they’ll tell me.”

Nelson anticipates needing to hire another three part-time workers to round out the Middlebury boutique staff.

So where does the store name “Elli Parr” come from? Nelson explained it’s an amalgam of “Elliot” — a street where her childhood home was located — and “Partridge,” the street where she now resides and is raising her own children.

“It (represents) the past and the present of me, as a kid, and then my kids,” she said, adding the original business name of “Sara Marie” was too similar to other jewelry store names.

The Middlebury Elli Parr store will officially open this Saturday, May 6, with the potential of a soft opening on Friday, May 5, from 3-7 p.m. Opening weekend hours are set for 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 6, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 7. Nelson said the store will be open every day of the week except Tuesdays. Check details at elliparr.com.

“I think we have a unique assortment of goods that are sustainable and well-crafted, that people care about,” she said. 

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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