WOONSOCKET – Gloria Ayotte's heart has always been tethered to a sewing machine, but the rest of her was shackled to a desk.
It was COVID-19 that set her free.
When her bank job was eliminated in a pandemic-driven restructuring move last fall, Ayotte turned her passion for fabric and design into a new interior decorating business – Interiors By Glo.
“This is actually a dream come true, one that I thought I would never reach,” Ayotte said at the grand opening a few days ago. “My husband Dean suggested I start sewing again, and that's all I needed to hear.”
Located at 275 Social St. – a slot in what the locals know as The Sawtooth Building – Interiors by Glo got a celebratory kickoff earlier this month, with a ribbon-cutting hosted by Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and some warm words from family members and friends.
One of them, Marvin Wells, is a standup comedian who's planning to open up a club in the old Jaragua Lounge as soon as the state allows indoor nightclub gatherings again. Serving as a sort of emcee for the grand opening, Wells talked about what an inspiration Ayotte was when he decided to do some tidying up at the nightspot.
“Within a week of meeting her, I was hanging up curtains,” Wells said. “She absolutely takes the craft to a higher level.”
Equipped with a 6- by 12-foot cutting table and perhaps the world's smartest sewing machine – the Bernina B880 – 275 Social St. doubles as a work studio and sales office for Ayotte. The longtime city resident will be making custom window treatments, awnings, furniture cushions – or just about anything the discriminatingly design-conscious homeowner or businessperson can dream up to beautify their interiors. For big furniture jobs, she says, she can team up with Carriere's Upholstery and Refinishing on Avenue C or Maria's Red Star in Cumberland.
Oh, and did she tell you she'll design your outdoor spaces, too? Even the neighborhood detention pond isn't beyond her magic.
A little background for those less familiar with the fineries of landscape engineering: detention ponds are supposed to be functional – places where stormwater runoff collects so it doesn't end up in people's basements. But function wasn't enough for the one near her house on Gauthier Drive – it had to be beautiful, too.
She spruced it up with a garden aesthetic to make it an eye-pleasing feature for the neighborhood.
“Gauthier Drive has the prettiest detention pond in the state,” she says proudly.
Baldelli-Hunt says Ayotte's versatility is one of the most remarkable aspects about her skill set.
“She's talented in many areas, but she's not mediocre at that,” she said. “She's top-notch in whatever her endeavor.”
Her husband, Dean Ayotte, a retired machinist, is excited for his wife's new venture.
“It's a happy nervous, if that makes any sense,” he said. “It's a big step.”
Ayotte says she chose a site in the city to get established in her own business because she's lived here since she was 18 – it's her home – and she sees the shop filling a niche that no one else is catering to.
“She could've put this shop anywhere,” Wells observed. “She put it here in Woonsocket. That's like getting breakfast in bed.”
Ayotte describes herself as a self-taught seamstress who basically picked up the craft through osmosis – when she was just a little girl. Her mother did some sewing, but Ayotte can't recall doing anything but watching her before she was off and running with a needle and thread – before she was even 10 years old.
She still remembers her first project – a gold jacket with matching metallic snaps.
“'I can't do that' does not exist in my vocabulary,” says Ayotte. “It's just a natural talent.”
By the time she was 12, she'd already sewn a wedding gown, and when she got to high school, she ended up making clothing not just for herself to wear, but for a lot of her friends. For a time, she worked at Marion's Sew n' Vac in Bellingham.
Not surprisingly, Interiors By Glo isn't Ayotte's first entrepreneurial jump into an endeavor that draws on her native talents. Over 20 years ago, she said, she had another sewing-related business, but it didn't last.
“It wasn't the right time,” she says.
For the last two decades or so, Ayotte has supported herself and her family mainly by working in private industry, including positions as a financial analyst, a legal assistant and, most recently, as a senior staff accountant at Citizens Bank. She was working at the spiffy new Johnston campus when she was informed, last October, that her position had been eliminated due to the economic pressures the company was facing as a result of COVID-19.
The bank opened the door for her to pursue her dream, but her husband pulled her through it with his support and encouragement, she says.
“He wants nothing more than to see my dream become a success,” she says.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo