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October 20. 2013 4:00PM

Bittersweet Blessings

Bittersweet Blessings humbled by Chester success


On display at Bittersweet Blessings Country Gifts in Chester, river rocks bear the messages of donors who have purchased a rock to contribute to the Chester Clothes Closet. (HUNTER McGEE PHOTO)

CHESTER — After finding success in a building once owned by Chester College, Bittersweet Blessings country gift shop now wants to give back to the community.

The business has been thriving since it moved into Douglas Hall on the former college campus in February, said owner Michelle Stein. On its opening weekend, 750 people stopped by, and sales have continued to climb since then.

"I had hoped the business would do well here, but it's really humbling to see how well it's doing," Stein said as she stood in the shop filled with candles, homemade soaps, linens and many other items.

Stein said she had previously run her business out of a 600-square-foot shop in Chester, which was located in the home of her in-laws on Route 102. She said she and her husband, Michael, were able to secure and purchase the property after the college closed last year following financial problems.

"We said we'd only ever leave the no-overhead location if we found the perfect opportunity, the perfect property," Stein said, adding that it was unfortunate that the college went out of business.

As a way to thank the community, Bittersweet Blessings has started a project to donate back to the community. River rocks are being sold for $1 each, with all proceeds going to benefit the Chester Clothes Closet. Anyone who purchases a rock can write a personal message on it, such as leaving a name or thanking someone, she said.

Plans call for her husband to construct a blessings rock garden on the property to enjoy for years to come, Stein said.

"We thought it would be a nice thing for the community to have, too," Stein said. "This was part of Chester College, and we kind of want to give back to the community like the college did. There is definitely a legacy to uphold there."
The building has a long history and dates back to at least the 1700s. Before it was part of Chester College, it had been used by a number of people through the years, including a local minister and the late New Hampshire Gov. John Bell.
Stein said it has multiple fireplaces, a built-in safe and tiles from Italy. It was once used as a pediatric hospital, and the doctor kept his medicine in the safe, she said.

"People love to just walk through and see the quirkiness of the building," she said.

The lower level is used by Stein for her business to sell primitives and other gift items. A large portion of the upper floor is leased out to 18 vendors who sell antiques and other articles, she said.

Stein said there's also an online business that is doing well and helps supplement other sales during slow periods.

As Stein spoke, longtime customer Sue Leclair was looking for Halloween items on the first floor. Leclair had traveled from her home in Fort Myers, Fla., to see what was new in the shop.

"It's a fun place and she really has nice things," said Leclair, who sometimes orders online.

For more information on Bittersweet Blessings, visit www.bittersweet-blessings.com or call 845-3577.


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