When we first met the owner of Quinstance, Erin Sandler, she had just opened her store in Burlington, MA. More than a year later, her business is thriving and her mission of selling handmade American or fair-trade goods is just as strong. Erin makes an effort to meet as many of the makers as she can- and it pays off. Her store is thoughtfully curated with products ranging from throw blankets to jewelry to grooming products.
- Let’s start with the basics- how did Quinstance begin?
About two years ago, I decided to leave my Ph.D. program in English and I didn’t know what I would do next. My husband urged me to start my own business, because it’s something I’d talked about for a long time. Six months later, I was attending my first trade shows and purchasing merchandise and less than a year after making my decision to do this, I opened the doors!
The word “quinstance” came about as a mashup of “quirky” and “coincidence.” I wanted to focus on carrying the kinds of objects we all surround ourselves with that bring meaning to our days and our lives. Little things, bigger things – it doesn’t matter. A quinstance can be as small as your favorite lip balm that you always carry or as momentous as a large serving platter that you were given for your wedding.
- What is it about Burlington and Third Avenue that makes it great?
Burlington has been growing so much over the past several years, and in the process it’s been attracting lots of younger people – both families and singles. My family has been in the Burlington area for about five years, and I’ve been so impressed with the growth. It’s smart, sustainable growth that meets the needs of the people who have been drawn to the area. It’s high tech, it’s trending upward, and it’s a lot of new and newly-renovated properties: commercial and residential.
3rd Ave is a great addition to this new Burlington! It’s walkable and it brings together a unique mix of brands. I’m so grateful to be situated alongside well-established brands like Wegman’s and David’s Tea as well as local favorites like King’s. 3rd Ave doesn’t feel like a mall, because it’s not; it’s a carefully-selected group of independent businesses that form a community.
- How long have you been in business?
Just over a year! We opened our doors June 15, 2015.
- What makes Quinstance special?
What really sets us apart is our commitment to handmade products and to American and fair-trade craftspeople. We carry only independently-produced goods and we get as close to the source as we can. This means that I’ve personally met and shaken hands with about 70% of the people whose work we carry. It’s an incredible privilege to know the real person behind the items you’re buying, wearing, consuming.
- What’s the best part about owning a local business?
I love that opening Quinstance has allowed me to connect with so many other people in my community. I live in Bedford and I joined the board of their Chamber of Commerce after opening Quinstance. But as a Burlington-based business, I also belong to the Burlington Chamber. Both groups have been so supportive and the people in the groups are honestly friends, not just networking partners.
And this may sound strange, but I love that we have gotten to know our letter carrier, Rich! It’s one of the things you don’t realize about opening a business: you get to know the mail guy because at a business he actually has to come in and hand you the mail. It’s not an impersonal transaction at all. We’ve learned about his kids, what he does in his spare time (hockey), anecdotes from his route, and so on. We look forward to seeing him every day, and I think (I hope anyway) that he looks forward to our stop.
- How do you develop relationships with your customers?
We genuinely try to connect with our customers. That often means taking the time to have a 20- or even 60-minute conversation in the store, where we get to know them and what they’re like. We have several regular customers whom we all know by sight and we love seeing them. We ask for updates on their children and grandchildren. We let them know what’s new in the store. We do a lot through social media, as well, and I personally respond to all the emails we get. We’re the kind of place where you’ll see a handwritten note in your package if you place an online order with us!
- In your free time, are there other local business you enjoy visiting?
Absolutely! We’re lucky to be surrounded by some other great small businesses. Osteria Nino is right behind us, and my whole family loves eating there. Bedford Farms Ice Cream is a local institution and I’m (un)lucky enough to have them right beside my store AND right next to my kids’ karate studio in Bedford. (Unlucky for the calories, just to be clear!) I’ve also been working with some local graphic designers – Dash & Dot Creative and Blue Bumble Creative – for my design and production work (window signs, fliers, etc.). And Kevin and crew at the Cambridge Savings Bank right in 3rd Ave are the best. Seriously. They make going to do the deposit fun!
Perfect for gifts or even a pick-me-up for yourself, Quinstance is located at 19 3rd. Ave in Burlington, Massachusetts.