Sweet Cecily knows what you want

NANCIE DUNN SHOWS off some of her wares at Sweet Cecily, the gift shop on Middlebury’s Main Street. The shop’s wonder-inspiring array of art and products made in Vermont and further afield is constantly evolving as Dunn hand-picks unique, unusual products that appeal to a wide audience.
Independent photo/Amelia Seepersaud

MIDDLEBURY — “It’s a general gift store and I think of it as the town’s gift shop because everybody shops here,” Nancie Dunn said of the store. 

Dunn, the proud owner of Middlebury’s beloved Sweet Cecily, opened the store 36 years ago in 1987. Before opening the store, Dunn worked at the Vermont State Craft Center, formerly located in Frog Hollow Alley, as the gallery director. After working there for years, the building across the street had become available and she decided to open up shop there. 

“It was time for me to move on and spread my wings,” she said. “I did not want to have a gallery, I wanted to have a store accessible to everybody.”

Later, in the early 2000s, she moved the store to “the heart of Middlebury,” as the shop website states, at street level on Main Street where it still sits today. 

Patrons, both local and visiting, frequent the shop. “I have been incredibly fortunate that the day I opened my store in 1987, it was a busy store. And it has been a busy store ever since,” Dunn said.

The store has a wide range of clientele. “Lots of local people shop here, students shop here, parents of Middlebury College students shop here,” she said. “People that work at the college, hospital workers. So, I think of it as the town’s gift shop for that reason.”

Dunn’s shop is constantly evolving with a wide range of products being sold. Dunn’s goal is for Sweet Cecily to have something for anyone who passes through its doors. 

“We have inventory that is accessible, and hopefully wonderful, interesting, unusual for people to choose from,” she said. “You can buy a wedding present here, you can buy a handmade bowl, you can buy a compass for kids. It’s really a range of gifts. I try to have it be something for almost everybody.”

Everything in the shop is hand selected by Dunn herself. She has an eye for unique, unusual products that appeal to a wide audience of people and interests. 

“Sweet Cecily opened about 35 years ago and initially I sold folk art,” she said of the store’s early years. “And that trend had its heyday then. When the trend of primitive work ended in the early ’90s and I moved my store up to Main Street, I took that as a sign to start selling different things.”

As an illustrator, Dunn naturally gravitates towards images that are colorful and unusual. “The prices are very reasonable and the things that I offer are unique, unusual, fun, and lovely.”

Dunn finds objects that appeal to a wide audience of people through a process that sounds deceptively simple — “by looking” — but that requires a lot of time and intuitive savvy.

“Sometimes people ask for things. Sometimes I see things online, sometimes there are new trends. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for new work,” she said. “Looking around, looking online, looking at catalogs.”

Dunn also strives to make Sweet Cecily an inviting place for everyone. “The warm and friendly ambiance is key,” she said. “I think the location is fantastic, we have a back porch overlooking the waterfall which is unbelievable. And we have wonderful inventory.”

Owning and running Sweet Cecily has been a source of great joy for Dunn as well as all who frequent the business. She explained that even during the COVID-19 pandemic when the store was closed, she found herself coming in every day anyway because she missed it so much. 

“I just want people to know how fun it is to have the store,” she said.

And even as Sweet Cecily has occupied its spot on Main St. for over 30 years, being one of the oldest shops in the community, Dunn said she intends to keep the store serving the community as long as she can. 

“It’s been an incredibly interesting, fun, fulfilling, wonderful life’s work here. [It’s] one of the oldest stores in town at this point. People depend on the store. I still have all the energy I’ve ever had to buy for the store and deal with the store,” she said, adding with her vivacious smile that she’ll be there several more years.

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