Article by Sam Dostaler
The hustle and bustle of Mystic tourism during the busy season is focused on East Main Street and its many shops and restaurants. However, if you pull yourself away and explore the quieter Cottrell Street just out of sight from the Mystic Bridge you will find yourself strolling by Mystic Knotwork, a family owned business for over 50 years that has been supplying New England and the world with nautical knots.
When you walk into Mystic Knotwork you are welcomed into the store by the site of hundreds of nautical knots; from bracelets to doorstops to coasters, just to name a few. After browsing the store for a moment you will be drawn to the work area at the back of the store where on this day Christa Clarke, a fourth generation knot tyer is hard at work creating 150 custom napkin rings for an online order.
“Originally (this all) began out of my great grandfather’s (Alton Beaudoin) house. He was a merchant marine in (World War II) so this is how he dealt with his PTSD. He did more of the fancier work, lamp shades, stuff like that,” Clarke who works as an artisan and retail sales said. “Then it started up again in my parents house in Norwich. So I was pretty young and we just did wholesale, just did bracelets and we didn’t do anything like we do now.”
Now Mystic Knotwork operates out of two stores, the one we visited on Cottrell Street and another just .1 miles away on Holmes Street. In addition, to the foot traffic they receive, a large amount of their business comes through online orders, “most of our business comes online and we do sell to a lot of businesses in the area, which is kind of funny because you wouldn’t think that a lot of businesses in Mystic would buy from us because we are right here.”
As we chat with Christa and Sue Waterman, who handles customer communications, a steady stream of customers enter the shop and browse the items displayed, all of which are made locally and with a team of employees that range from full-time staff to pay for piece at home workers to part-time high school students to friends of the family like Vince, who handles some of the fancier work like belts. Even as we talked the work never stopped as Sue took a break from the conversation to answer the phone and Christa steadily made her way through the napkin rings pilled in front of her.
The constant movement is because Mystic Knotworks has a worldwide audience selling to among other locations the Caribbean, Antartica and Germany. “My mom just wanted more color,” Clarke explained on how the company has grown. “We only had your basic white and my mom was like lets do more colors and we basically started hand dying everything and we obviously out grew that. Then my dad found the company that we buy from now and now we have the coasters and all sorts of different bracelets. It is mostly just my mom and I coming together and going this would be cute, lets try it and some of the stuff becomes really, really popular.”
Popular is an understatement, Mystic Knotwork has been open to the public since Dwight D. Eisenhower was President and Elvis Presley was wowing audiences. Over the years the style has been adopted by different groups beginning with the coastal world, moving to the hippies in the 60’s, the macrame craze in the 70’s and continues to thrive and grow today.
As the customers made their way through the store and over to where we were standing we took a step back to let Christa and Sue tend to their work, work that has been thriving for more than half a century and and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.