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After 18 years of helping to build a community of clients at Ella, Where She Shops, Carol Griffin completed her last day as its manager and buyer on Saturday, July 2, knowing she’s leaving the shop in the capable hands of owner Erica Azarigian and Ella’s stellar staff. Griffin be heading south to reside near family in Florida with her Havanese, Rigley, a store regular. Pam Johnson/Guilford Courier)
Carol Griffin leaves Guilford grateful, after 18 years working with a community of clients.)
“When I first started here, I said, ‘It’s going to be like a country club, where everybody’s a member,’” Carol Griffin recounts. “Then sometimes I say, ‘No, it’s more like Steel Magnolias.”
“I know their names; I know their families. I know their stories. I care about them. They care about me,” she says. “So, when they come in the door, I know! I know their size, what they like, their style. And we begin.”
After 18 years of helping to build a community of clients at Ella, Where She Shops, Carol completed her last day as the downtown Guilford store’s manager and buyer on Saturday, July 2. Carol, who will be moving to Florida, bids her fondest farewell to the many friends she’s made among her customers over the years, as well as to the friends she’s found in store owner Erica Azarigian and Ella’s stellar staff.
While she’s heading south to live closer to her daughter, son-in-law and two young granddaughters, Carol says she’ll keep all her friends from the shop with her, in her “heart house.”
“I love them all, and they will always live in my heart house,” she says. “I’m taking them with me.”
Carol’s also leaving them something — the magical elements she helped sow which make Ella’s a haven (Carol calls it “The Kingdom of Women”), and a place where customers know they’ll find the right fashions and accessories to look and feel their best, backed by a knowledgeable staff.
“I have an amazing staff — the best. No one will let anyone walk out of here with the wrong thing – unless they choose to!” says Carol. “We’ll work really hard to get people in the right place, and understand how it has to fit. And if we don’t have it, we’ll send them on to the right business to find it.”
Interacting with people to provide them with the best possible service – even if it’s sending them to another business – is something Carol says customers can find in every successful local shop.
“You want every shop in town to be successful, and every shop on the shoreline,” she says. “It’s vital to the whole economy.”
During Carol’s time at the shop, the store has become an award-winning business, including earning recurring Best of the Shoreline first place awards from The E-List.
“I’ve worked very hard to try to be the best; and I care about what I do, and care about my customers, and they know it,” says Carol. “We’re a good store. We give service — we really wait on people, talk to them and listen to them. We talk it through and we work it through until we get it right. The personal service, the respectful service, a drive for excellence, love of fashion and lovin’ on our people — that’s how it all kind of rolls together. That’s what we strive for, and it’s instilled in everyone who works here.”
Even before she learned the many pro tips that she shares with customers and staff, Carol knew she loved clothes, from a very young age.
“I’ve loved clothes all my life. In kindergarten, I had a red mohair coat with brown fur trim and a matching brown muff, and I can remember staring down at my hands and saying ‘Oh, muffs are so wonderful.’ That’s what started it,” she says, laughing.
She learned to sew from her grandmother, a seamstress, and went on to study fashion merchandising and retail in college. Carol says she learned still more about her chosen field when she started working at Esthers in New Haven, a destination store known in its day for “better dresses.” As soon as a seller assisted a client with finding a dress,”...the seamstresses would come up and pin, and they knew everything!” says Carol. “They, and my grandmother, too, taught me how to eye things; and see what’s right and see what’s wrong and what needs to be done. It helps me to tell people how to make their clothes fit right.”
Carol went on to work at a country club in Avon during the emergence of modern stretch fabrics and the rise of celebrity golfers. It was there she developed the knack for knowing everybody’s name and delivering superb customer service. Next, she joined the corporate staff of Golfers’ Warehouse, as a buyer for 6 stores and assistant to the owner.
Years later, Carol’s next move was to Guilford, to care for her parents, the late Bob and Doris Harrington. Carol grew up summering at the family cottage. Both her parents were also former Guilford Public School employees. Her mom, who had summered in Mulberry Point as a child, worked in an elementary school in town; while her dad’s first teaching gig was at Guilford High School (GHS). He also served as Advisor to the GHS Class of 1951 and, perhaps most memorably, was the school’s basketball coach in a year when GHS won a state championship.
“Everyone called him ‘Chief,’ and I was Chief’s daughter,” says Carol.
Now that she was living in Guilford, “I needed a job in town,” Carol recalls. “I’m a Christian woman of faith, and the Lord spoke to me. I was on the Green one day, and He said to me, ‘Why don’t you go up there?’ I said, ‘You really want me to go shopping when I don’t have a job?’”
“Up there” was a women’s clothing shop at 90 Broad St. The shop was called Eleanor’s and Carol was greeted by the owner, Eleanor Riley.
“I walked into there and Mrs. Riley said, ‘Do you know anybody looking for a job?’”
Riley was looking for someone with retail experience, who lived in town, to work at the shop. Carol happened to have her resume in her car.
“I gave her my resume, and she called me... and that’s how I started,” says Carol of her tenure at the location, which later became Ella, Where She Shops.
Carol learned more about buying for women’s fashions from Riley, a veteran shoreline women’s clothing purveyor. When the business changed hands, Azarigian adjusted the name and kept Carol on as manager and buyer.
For Carol, the business became like a second home. It was also a second home to Carol’s dog, Rigley, a cheerful and respectful little Havanese who will turn five this year. Rigley came to work with Carol every day through her last on July 2. He even had his own “office” behind the counter.
“Everybody knows him and loves him,” says Carol.
Rigley followed in the paw prints of Carol’s dog Laddie, a Yorkshire terrier who also shared many years with customers in the shop.
Carol says it’s been her honor to help build the clientele community that supports this local business; and a gift to work in Guilford.
“It has meant so much to me, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity to be here. One of my wishes was to be part of a community, because for a long time, I was this commuter — you sleep here and you work there. Being here, you become part of the community. You try to make a difference and make it better and be part of the good things that are happening,” says Carol. “And I have always wanted to work in downtown Guilford, and be part of the downtown vibe, and get to know everyone here. Because Guilford’s amazing. I’ve really been blessed to meet a lot of great people.”
Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at email@example.com.
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