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Updated: November 27, 2023 Shop Talk

Q&A: Artisan entrepreneur expanding Sterling handmade goods shop

A photo of Leanne Boudrea in her shop Photo | Courtesy of Notown Goods Leanne Boudreau, owner of Notown Goods in Sterling

Leanne Boudreau was among countless scrappy small business owners who pivoted during the COVID pandemic to survive. Yet Notown Goods, a Sterling retail shop selling handmade goods from artisans across the U.S., didn’t just make it through; it boomed. A handweaver and former gallery manager with a master’s degree in arts administration, Boudreau seemed destined for store ownership one day. Before she decided to work full time as an artisan, she’d dream of the things she’d do in her own gallery store while working various museum shop and art gallery jobs.

A bio box about Leanne Boudreau, owner of Notown Goods in Sterling

Starting out in 500 square feet in her hometown of Westminster, a boom in cloth mask orders buoyed Boudreau early in the pandemic. She was able to stay afloat and then rent a larger space in downtown Sterling early in 2021. From there, inventory and sales grew, and Notown has quickly become a local favorite for people seeking gifts, greeting cards, or the right scented candle for the season. Boudreau talked about her evolution as an artisan-turned-entrepreneur, and why Sterling is a perfect home for Notown Goods.

I’m curious where the name Notown Goods came from.

If you go hiking in the Leominster State Forest, there are all these old walls. It was an early settlement. They call themselves Notown – it was surrounded by Leominster, Sterling, Fitchburg – yet no town would allow them to incorporate. There’s a road in Westminster formerly called Notown Road. I was looking for a name with local flair that wasn’t Wachusett.

What defines your store in North Central Massachusetts?

I started off selling the work of a lot of New England artisans, but now I work with people from all over the U.S. I want the things I offer in my shop to be unique and high quality but also accessible to all different kinds of people. I’m unique for the area; there just aren’t as many independent stores, period.

What prompted you to open a retail store?

I was working as a handweaver. It’s labor intensive, and it’s not especially creative. I don't have a big wingspan so it was very hard on my body. It’s just a really hard way to make a living. That type of work, it’s almost impossible to scale it.

A lot of artists had started doing this studio-store model. They’d always sell their own work, but they sold the work of other people, too. Something came up one day – a tiny space in Westminster. I figured, I’ll just do my handweaving work there. Worst-case scenario, I try it for a year, I lose a couple thousand bucks on rent. I opened in May 2019.

And then you moved to Sterling?

There wasn’t a lot of time before the pandemic happened. All of my weaving orders got canceled because all the stores were closed. I had to figure out what to do next. I started making face masks and selling them on Etsy, which ended up being really awesome for my business. That kept me in business through the shutdown.

When stores opened in June 2020, people wanted to get out of their houses. They were only allowing me two customers at a time because of the square footage of the store. At Christmastime, I had a line out the door in the freezing weather. That's when I found the new space in Sterling. It's about 1,250 square feet, right on Main Street.

How did moving change your business?

The center of town is in a much more populated area than my former location in Westminster. We are less than 10 minutes from the centers of Clinton and West Boylston. All of the towns here are the most heavily populated in the area; I get a lot more customers here from around the region. We are close to a certain part of Leominster. Also, it seems the way people move is different. We are right on Route 12, it’s a very busy road, pretty much all day on weekdays.

What are some customer favorites?

I sell a lot of candles. I started working with a company on our own private-label candle company. Our best-selling candle is called Wachusett Woods. Christmas in Sterling is a big one. The greeting cards I sell are super fun; I have a lot of pretty ones and funny ones. I have like 50 different brands. It’s nice because I end up with a more obscure collection.

Do you have any plans to grow?

I just added another 200 square feet and put in a whole kids and baby section. I have a lot for kids up to age 10. I like keeping the store small because I feel like I can have a better work-life balance. I’m closed on Sundays and Mondays. I do a lot of hiking, and I’m off the grid.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Correspondent Emily Micucci.

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