The boutique, at 6 North Main Street, was again bustling Friday for its official grand opening event. The store sells women’s clothing and jewelry as well as paintings and interior design services. Owner Melinda Coombs, of Whitingham, is an artist, designer, and seamstress who brings with her years of retail experience from working at Manyu’s Boutique as well as expertise in running a successful interior design business from her home. Coombs was inspired to open Beyond Imagination after witnessing the outpouring of support after Tropical Storm Irene; she hopes that the boutique will play a key role in revitalizing the community.
Explaining her motivation, Coombs said, “I’m doing this to help the town. The more shops, the more alive we are, the more people will come. I’m doing this for everybody; I really believe it will help all the businesses in town. I believe that the town of Wilmington can be even better than it was before.”
Until last summer, Coombs had worked for 16 years at Manyu’s, the well-known boutique in Wilmington, which stood in the Parmelee & Howe building before closing last year in the aftermath of the hurricane. Beyond Imagination will help fill the absence that many felt when Manyu’s closed, but the new store has a particular flare inspired by Coombs’ personal touch. In addition to clothing and accessories, for sale and on display at the shop are many of Coombs’ handmade jewelry and paintings.
Wilmington resident Julie Lineberger had frequently shopped at Manyu’s. She’s very excited about the opening of the new store. “It’s a little bit different and that’s good. (Coombs) offers home design services and has skill with making slipcovers, shades, and drapery. She has an entire homegoods section and original art work that Manyu didn’t have. It’s Melinda’s own shop.”
Suzanne Strattner, of Jacksonville, works full time at the boutique. When she heard that Melinda was opening the store, she called immediately to inquire about a position. Strattner describes Beyond Imagination as beautiful, spacious, and welcoming to all. “We even provide cushy chairs for gentlemen so they can relax while the ladies are shopping.”
According to Strattner, “There is not another store like this in town. There aren’t other stores that have such a wide range of clothing and fashion. From cozy sweaters to comfy jeans to the little black dress that every girl needs. We have it all, and in a wide range of sizes with price points for everyone.”
Coombs first thought of opening the store when she was approached by members of the Wilmington Fund VT in the spring of 2012. While hesitant at first, she quickly realized that her experience had prepared her for the venture. “I realized it was something that I definitely could do. That the town would benefit and I would benefit in the end. I missed Manyu’s as much as everybody else.”
The journey since spring has been challenging and Coombs has had to persevere to make the store a reality. The Parmelee & Howe building, where Coombs originally planned to open, was sold in mid-June. Coombs was forced to return merchandise she had purchased and scrambled to find a new location for the boutique. She eventually found retail space on North Main Street right next door to Manyu’s’ original location. While the owner renovated the building which had suffered major damages in Tropical Storm Irene, Coombs worked on her business plan and putting together finances for the endeavor.
Finding the resources to support the new business was a challenge. In addition to investing personally in Beyond Imagination, Coombs received a low-interest loan from Vermont Economic Development Authority and a generous grant from the Wilmington Fund VT.
The Wilmington Fund was set up in the fall of 2011 to help support Wilmington’s recovery and promote commerce and business activity. The board of directors is confident in Coombs’ abilities. According to Dan Kilmurray, the fund president, “She had been a manager at Manyu’s. She is a real talent and I am highly confident that she is going to be very, very successful.”
Lineberger, the fund secretary, described Coombs as a fantastic choice, adding, “I knew that she was Manyu’s right-hand person for so long. She has a very good design sense and I knew she would carry on the quality and caliber of Manyu’s, which is what we need. To draw people from surrounding areas, you need to have that same caliber of shop. She is doing something a little different but is striving for that same level of excellence.”
Customers, employees, and investors alike are excited about the business and many see it as a symbol of hope and revival in Wilmington. Strattner says, “When I first moved here, Wilmington was a real destination place. A walking town with cute little shops. People would come here and spend their whole day here, have lunch. It’s really great to be part of the rebirth of Wilmington. It needs to come back after the devastation from the flood.”
Coombs, who was nervous before embarking on the endeavor, added, “After being open for only three days, I am feeling a lot more confident. Most people are walking out of the store with a bag.”
By all indications, Beyond Imagination is on track to be a success. As Carol Grant, a longtime customer of Coombs’ interior design business assures, “Melinda always succeeds ‘Beyond MY Imagination!’.”
Visit Beyond Imagination at 6 North Main Street in Wilmington or online at www.beyondimaginationvt.com.