WOONSOCKET – Melissa Murray just opened a new business in the city and it’s located in a place she sees as a perfect home for creative and innovative art and craft entrepreneurs like herself.
Murray, a city native, operates The Opulent Squid in the Le Moulin Artist Mall at 68 South Main St., selling an eclectic selection of her own jewelry designs and consignment items in mixed mediums.
Her favorite personal choices are her Woon-socket Rocket necklaces that feature a graphic of a city map point with either the local zip code or a Woonsocket Rocket banner lacquered over a shaped wood blank. They are intended for city residents who take pride in the place where they live and are willing to show it, according to Murray.
Her idea was to take a term some might see as derogatory and turn it into something positive, she said.
She also produces a paper-on-wood cutout necklace featuring a collected image of a pet or a commercial product recalling another time, along with earrings, pendants, and even a line of leather wallets and small purses from another crafter.
Her shop in the renovated former Falls Yarn Mill is a long way from her former job with a Phoenix, Ariz. research and development company and time spent working in an optical laboratory as she started making jewelry items for sale through the internet.
“I came upon it by accident one day,” she said of finding the home for her business. “I always wanted to create some kind of artisan cooperative in Woonsocket and when I walked into this old mill, I couldn’t believe it. I fell in love with the space instantly.”
The Artist Mall, developed by mill owner Marie Deschenes, features small business boutiques on the former manufacturing floors and already hosts a number of artist, photography, jewelry, and craft stores with more to follow.
The arrangement of individual shops around an open space and the outdoor views of nearby former mill properties such as the River Falls Complex seemed perfectly suited to businesses run by artists who hand-make their products and sell them to customers seeking locally produced art goods or re-fashioned antiques, according to Murray.
“I think this building is beautiful and I love all the exposed brick and the wooden beams,” she said. “I love the bones of this place.”
Murray believes small businesses like those operated by the Artist Mall artists and craft people will help spur Woonsocket’s economic recovery.
“This is really going to be the key to the city’s success and the city’s survival,” she said.
“I would say that if there is anyone in the city who hasn’t been to Le Moulin Artist Mall, they should stop in and check this out,” she added. “There are a lot of amazing artists here and they don’t know what they are missing.”
Murray, 38, a 1992 graduate of Woonsocket High School, decided to go into business for herself after hearing from an old high school chum, Dan Mar-chand, through Facebook.
“Dan found me on Facebook and asked me what I was doing,” she said. “When I told him, he said, ‘“Oh, I always thought you would be doing something artistic.’”
That prediction wasn’t really far off the mark for Murray, who had been involved in the innovative Aspire gifted and talented program in elementary school. She had loved going to the junior high school back then to take art classes intended for older students. She went on to take art courses in the high school’s award-winning art program but then somehow became sidetracked while seeking to make a living in the workplace.
“It was the kick in the butt I needed to rediscover my artistic side,” Murray said.
She began to work on art projects while still working full time and trying out a lot of different mediums.
“Then I found jewelry-making and I just loved it,” she said.
Her paper-on-wood technique behind her Woonsocket Rocket items became popular on her internet store site and she began to think about taking the next big step.
“Up until recently I didn’t have the time to do anything new because I had a full-time job,” she said.
But when she decided to open her store in the Artist Mall, Murray also did not look back.
She now works on her art pieces and thinks about growing her business. The store is open with other Mall store stores from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. through Labor Day.
That sounds like a lot of commitment when you add in the time producing the items to be sold, but Murray said she finds it to be a workable investment.
“I consider myself an addicted workaholic so, considering the 80 hours I used to put in, this isn’t bad,” she said. “I also enjoy working for myself and working toward my own success.”
It also helped to get the backing and support of her partner, Donna, and her parents, Jerome and Leslie Smith, when starting out in business.
“They are behind me 100 percent and they are my number one fans,” she said.