On Route 1 in York is a barn that once sat in a wooded section of town known as Toddsville back in the early 1800s. Today, it is the home of the Shops at Cape Neddick, which are made up of ten boutiques owned and operated by eight women entrepreneurs.
Jeanne Lombardi is the managing director and curator of the shops. She also owns some of the stores, including Coco’s Baby, a store that sells hand-knitted baby clothes and accessories, which she named after her daughter, who is now 21 years old and attending college in Boston. Jeanne also owns Maine Mercantile, BookEnds, Vignettes, and Savon Flaire.
“There is safety in numbers. We all work together. We all pay the rent, and we all share the expenses,” Jeanne explained.
The Shops at Cape Neddick didn’t begin that way at all. In fact, it all started with one store and gradually evolved into the ten stores that occupy the 200-year-old refurbished barn today.
The other strength that these boutiques possess is variety and diversity. When customers come here, they almost feel like they enter an eclectic, mini-New England village where they encounter something very special and unique around every corner.
Some of the other shops are boutiques like A Vintage Affair, Coastal Blues, Coastal Cork, and Poppy Seed Studio. Many of them sell items that are made by local artisans and by other craftspeople throughout Maine.
For example, Jeanne said the baby sweaters she sells in her shop are knitted by a 95-year-old York resident. The shops also sell driftwood wreaths, custom-made jewelry such as sea glass necklaces and earrings, felt birdhouses, hand-made wooden cutting boards, paintings, throws, and scarves.
“There is a total mix. You never know what you will find here,” Jeanne said.
Regardless of what a customer is seeking, they are bound to find something within their budget, she said.
Jeanne describes the shopkeepers as a close-knit family that supports one another, as well as competing for business. “We are all business partners. As women, we all support each other.”
Seven years ago, Jeanne said there were three women shopkeepers in a small retail space adjacent to the 5,000-square-foot barn. As more women merchants joined the cooperative, Jeanne said they simply needed more space. A barn builder in Eliot, Michael Tero, and Jennifer Marshall became partners with the Lombardis and purchased the former Cape Neddick House B&B, which was an 1880s farmhouse that
had been originally relocated from another part of York known as Toddsville. The barn was transformed from a once aging structure into a beautiful, illuminated space filled with plenty of natural light and impressive timber beams.
The two couples wanted to make a difference locally with the idea to invest in Main Street rather than Wall Street. Their journey through this restoration project could have filled many episodes of “This Old House.” In the end, they saved a historic structure and made it a viable business center again.
The original Cape Neddick Post Office is located on the property and is now The Ice Cream House. The Maine Quilt Place occupies what used to be the stables under the barn. Maureen Bane, a former shopkeeper at The Shops, has expanded her business, Signature Finishes, taking over the Carriage House next to the barn and featuring home decor, clothing, and specialty paints like Anne Sloan, Farrow and Ball, and Iron Orchids Design. Maureen also holds classes in her space on furniture painting and restorations.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Jeanne said the shopkeepers held their own by offering curbside service, once they were allowed to reopen in the spring. What got them through is the strong relationships and reputation they have fostered with their customers.
“We have a lot of good customers locally and regionally, and that helped us,” Jeanne said. “We eked by like everybody else. We’re hoping to make up for a lot of that.”
Because the boutiques are relatively small, Jeanne said they have lower inventory and overhead costs which enabled the shopkeepers to make a profit even during the worst economic conditions that were created during the pandemic.
“When people do discover us, they become repeat customers and they bring friends,” Jeanne explained.
“We all like to make things beautiful, a place where you can escape and feel good and enjoy a little retail therapy,” she said.
One of the things Jeanne enjoys best is getting to shop with her customers to help them find that special item for that special someone in their lives. She does this by engaging in down-to-Earth conversation and asking the right questions as she guides a customer through the shops. More often than not, this leads to a purchase that brings much joy for the buyer and the person who receives it.
Jeanne’s journey to create this successful retail business began when she and her husband, David, decided to relocate from the Greater Boston area to York a few years after their daughter was born.
Jeanne recalled how they attended their nephew’s high school graduation one spring and just fell in the love with the strong community spirit and historic charm of York village. She said York reminded David of Marblehead, Massachusetts, where he grew up. Jeanne is originally from Beverly, Massachusetts.
The decision to relocate and become a stay-at-home mom wasn’t an easy one for Jeanne. At the time, in the early 1990s, she was the CEO of one of the largest recording studios on the East Coast, Soundtrack Recording in Boston.
Years later, Jeanne is glad that she decided to take a chance and move to Maine to build a new life. When their daughter grew older, Janine decided she wanted to open a retail shop even though she didn’t have a great deal of retail experience.
“I went into retail because I love helping people,” she recalled. Jeanne had an original shop called The Marketplace that represented the wares created by 75 local artisans.
One of the things she had learned is that small businesses have to be good at changing on the fly. “My favorite saying is ‘I bob and weave,’” she said. “You have to be flexible and make adjustments and do it quickly, and you will make mistakes, but you have to keep trying.”
Jeanne and her fellow women entrepreneurs also learn from one another.
Jeanne understands that the best way she and other merchants at Shops at Cape Neddick can be successful is to provide the one intangible that online retailers cannot provide – one-on-one, caring customer service. This formula has worked well for nearly a decade.
“When people come through our front door, they enter as strangers and leave as friends. When people come here they are coming into our home.”
To learn more about the Shops at Cape Neddick, visit theshopsatcapeneddickmaine.com.