Beautiful Fashions for the Well-Rounded Woman
Lynne Urquhart is a natural storyteller with a wonderfully dry wit and optimistic outlook on life, which is all reflected in her attractive and appealing shop in Damariscotta, Women of Substance. A marine biologist by training, she had taken a job in a local clothing boutique and fell in love with the retail business. The only thing that troubled her was that this shop did not carry sizes for the larger woman. Lynne had struggled with weight issues for some years and joined a supportive group of women. “I was welcomed with opened arms to that wonderful group,” she smiled. “And for two to three years, we shared all sorts of healthy weight-loss ideas and books, as we supported each other in the goal of losing weight.”
She tried, unsuccessfully, to encourage the owner of the shop to consider carrying larger sizes. “At this point I had a support group of 10 to 15 women who really wished there were items in town that they could buy,” she said. “I played that card as often as I could without jeopardizing my job or friendship with a boss who was wonderful. But it was so frustrating because I knew there was a substantial market for this.” Then one day, she was thrilled when a bright colorful order appeared at the shop in sizes 1X, 2X, and 3X. “I got it all unpacked, I got it steamed, I got it put out and priced, and I called all of my women friends and told them, ‘get yourself down here right now!’” Unfortunately, there had been a mistake, and she found herself repacking everything and sending it all back.
Then and there, she knew it was time for a change. “That very afternoon I took a three-by-five card to the Damariscotta Bank and Trust across the street and told the ‘well-rounded’ loan officer, who knew me well, that I needed $15,000 to start the new business.” Lynne felt that even though a business spot hadn’t opened up, she at least had the funds to get started. A couple of days later, she noticed a “For Rent” sign on a well-located building. She learned the rent was reasonable, and all she was additionally responsible for was telephone and electric. “Hmmmm,” she thought. “This is really going to happen after all!”
She called her business “Women of Substance.” It began with one room and probably 10 to 15 suppliers. Her sister came to help her get everything tagged and put out. “We had such fun,” she recalled. Ten years and many happy customers later, she was told that the building owner needed the space. Finding a new location for her growing inventory and plenty of parking was super challenging. It took three tries and three years to finally find her current location. “I had been manager of Rising Tide Natural Foods when they were located here, so I was familiar with the property and how sweet a location it was.”
It turned out, however, that though Lynne had made a decent offer, the property was sold to someone else. She was devastated. On the lawn below this property was a remarkable statue of a zaftig lady frolicking—the perfect image of the larger women she catered to. She strode up to the statue and had quite a talk with her. “This was supposed to be my place!” she railed. Then something amazing happened—the buyers backed out. They found there was a problem with the roof. Long story short, Lynne offered a little less for the building, and it was hers. With the money she saved, she had enough to make repairs. Roofers, electricians, and plumbers showed up to do necessary work, and they got all their jobs done on time and within budget. Needless to say, the statue on the lawn is now a dear friend of Lynne’s. “My family moved me in on that Thanksgiving weekend,” she said. “I have two sturdy sons who made sure I was able to do it.”
She renovated an apartment upstairs where she could settle in nicely. One of her sons remodeled the back porch into a shipping station. “That was great,” she noted. “I had the joy of working with my son every other weekend or so.” For a long time, business was really humming along. Women of Substance is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
And then came COVID-19. Her loyal customers were not going out as much. There were no parties, celebrations, or summer get-togethers. Her sales dropped. Ever the optimist, Lynne looks upon her good amount of inventory as a plus. Five rooms of the house are filled with colorful, elegant delights from many major brand names for the larger women—tops, pants, socks, jackets, scarves, a fabulous array of jewelry, and so much more. She has a large, friendly stuffed bear, Bearnice, dressed in a pretty scarf and the requisite mask. Bearnice has a sign which reads, “I wish I was a bear. Everyone would expect me to have hairy legs, excess body fat, and wake up growling.” That made this writer laugh!
“I wish I was a bear. Everyone would expect me to have hairy legs, excess body fat, and wake up growling.”
In addition to her regular inventory, Lynne has been carrying extraordinary masks made out of washable silk. They are light and comfortable, with the most intriguing, printed designs, and they make perfect gifts. “They’ve been flying out the door,” she said. “The silk is so pretty and holds it shape nicely.” Lynne suggests checking out the website for ideas and calling the store to order. She carries many sizes from Medium all the way to 3X and grander. “We can measure to ensure a good fit as well, and take pictures of color and print options,” she said. Lynne brightens her customers’ days, with her wit, optimism, stories, and a stylish, welcoming store offering beautiful clothes that fit.
Women of Substance is located toward the northern end of town at 508 Main Street in Damariscotta. It will be open three days a week through November and December (not including holidays), from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit them online at https://womenofsubstance.us or call 207-563-6809.