Mystic - Martha Hug has never really been a fan of the grind of the retail business.
Despite that, her looming retirement after 31 years of running the successful downtown Mystic shop, Whyevernot, has not come without some tears. Hug tends to look at Whyevernot as a labor of love - an outlet for her creativity and artistic sensibilities.
Hug, with help from her longtime business partner, award-winning illustrator Pamela Zagarenski, has spent countless hours handpicking the eclectic mix of gifts, clothing and jewelry and arranging eye-catching displays that have delighted customers at 17 W. Main St. for the past 27 years. She first opened the shop on the Stonington side of the Mystic River before moving.
"We've put our hearts into it," Hug said. "We've had a great run. It just feels like it's time."
Hug, a longtime Stonington resident, said the genesis for idea of the store came mostly from her time abroad and love of "poking around" to find interesting items. She plans on remaining a part of the community but envisions more time for gardening and helping Zagarenski along in her new greeting card business.
The shop closes at the end of the month and dedicated patrons have nearly picked clean the shelves.
"It's been a great anchor for downtown," said Paul Connor, a partner in Steamboat Wharf LLC, which owns the building housing Whyevernot.
"They will be sorely missed for sure, by us and the whole town," Connor said. "She had something for everybody."
Connor said Hug's decision doesn't appear to be related to some of the struggles downtown storeowners have faced over the past several years during repairs to the Mystic River Bridge and a streetscape project.
"She just wants to do other things in her life," Connor said. "We'll do our best to find someone to fill that spot."
Outgoing Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce President Tricia Cunningham and soon-to-be president Tricia Walsh issued a joint statement about the closing.
"Whyevernot has been an anchor store in Downtown Mystic and will be truly missed by both visitors and locals alike. They have offered the community of Mystic a wonderful place to go for gifts, jewelry, clothing and excellent customer service along with a dose of creativity," read the statement. "We are happy for Martha and wish her well on her retirement and thank her for the many years she has called Mystic her home, we will be forever grateful to her for her commitment to Mystic!"
Zagarenski said she's "cried a lot," since the announcement.
"I care about this whole community. I feel like I'm losing my friends," she said.
She's bittersweet about leaving after more than 20 years at the shop. But the retail business demands long hours on weekends, holidays and summers.
"When everyone else is playing, you're working," Zagarenski said.
Zagarenski said she plans to dedicate her time to her art. She has won two Caldecott honors for illustrations in the children's books "Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors" in 2010 and for "Sleep Like a Tiger" in 2013.