Sydney Maltese | Staff Writer
Some come to Chautauqua for recreation — to sail, and swim and play. Others come for spiritual renewal and still others for intellectual stimulation. But some, such as Ruth Nelson, come to Chautauqua to build a career.
Nelson owns and operates the Chautauqua Wearhouse, the boutique on the first floor of the Colonnade. As the daughter of Pat Finson, of Pat’s at Chautauqua, Nelson grew up on the grounds.
“We moved here from Jamestown, when she opened the shop in St. Elmo in 1987,” she said.
After living off grounds for a number of years, Nelson moved back to the area 12 years ago.
“I started working with my mom down at Pat’s. Seven years ago, we opened the store here,” Nelson said. “I’ve been here since then, running the shop here.”
Working at Chautauqua is unlike working anywhere else, Nelson said. Each day, she brings along her two sons, Brian, 10, and Owen, 8, who attend Boys’ Club while she runs the shop.
“It’s a great place to be, to come to Chautauqua every day,” she said.
Nelson also works as a real estate salesperson for Maple Group Real Estate. Recently, she decided to give back to Chautauqua for all it has contributed to her career by making a donation to the Chautauqua Fund.
“I just felt like my career is really based around Chautauqua and the community here,” she said. “I feel like there’s so many opportunities given to me by being in Chautauqua; it’s only natural that I should make a donation to the fund.”
The Chautauqua Wearhouse was called Carnahan’s in its previous incarnation. Having the experience from running Pat’s was a significant advantage for Nelson.
“We knew what we were doing going into it, having been in Chautauqua and having Pat’s, so that was a good starting-off point,” she said. “We know what our customers like. It’s just a natural extension to open the store here.”
Nelson keeps the Chautauqua Wearhouse open all year, and open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May through October. Once the season begins, Nelson extends the hours and hires staff.
“It’s just a one-man show the rest of the time. We do 90 percent of our sales in the summer — it’s fast-paced. We’re always getting new things in,” Nelson said.
New shipments come in during May, June and July. Those who visit the shop soon will see some fall items. The Chautauqua Wearhouse also displays original pieces from Chautauquan artist Rita Argen Auerbach. Auerbach’s watercolor paintings fill the shop walls with color, and reproductions of her work are on display in Pat’s.
“We show all of her original artwork here on the gallery walls. Everything works well together,” Nelson said.
Just as Auerbach’s art links Pat’s and the Chautauqua Wearhouse, Nelson said she and her mother have similar tastes and are often drawn to the same styles.
“We do all our buying together,” she said. “We have the same aesthetic, but it’s different in each store. It works out well.”
In February, Nelson and Finson attended a weeklong trade show in Las Vegas. Nelson said many of her customers remember shopping at Pat’s in the 1980s, when her mother produced entire wardrobes by hand.
“I’ve grown up watching my mom develop her business,” Nelson said. “Some that were my mom’s original customers come in and say, ‘I remember when your mom made me that outfit,’ because she used to make all the clothes — that’s how she started her business.”
Nelson appreciates Chautauqua’s family-friendly atmosphere, not only in her relationship with her mother, but also in what it provides for her sons. Because of the Chautauqua season, she can work full-time in the summer while her sons are at Club, and then spend more time at home during the off-season.
“I try to go to the family entertainment with the kids, and the opera and participate in some of the activities on the grounds,” Nelson said. “I’m a full-time career girl in the summer, and then I get to be a stay-at-home mom in the winter.”
An informal artist in her own right, Nelson enjoys when people come in and ask what they should wear.
“I’m a very creative person, so this gives me a creative outlet,” Nelson said. “I can be more artistic and creative here. It’s not your regular store. They’re here to buy something that’s different, and unique and fun.”
Throughout the years, Nelson has had the opportunity to meet interesting people from all walks of life who come into her store.
“What I love about Chautauqua is that there’s a place for everyone here, whatever your interests are. For me, I’m on the retail end,” Nelson said. “What better place to have a shop than in Chautauqua?”