STONINGTON — For Mystic resident Jason Hine, opening his own business wasn’t about getting rich or making a name for himself.
Hine, who described himself as a concerned citizen and environmental activist, said he and his staff at The Ditty Bag Market and Cafe are committed to developing a sustainable business model that will help make a positive, long-lasting impact in the community by promoting responsible, sustainable products and lifestyles.
“My hope is that public education and community outreach will be a big part of our business model,” said Hine. “We are not doing this to make get rich or even make money. Our hope is to provide a model that will encourage others to get involved, and to offer a means for local residents to help make a difference themselves.”
“I want to make this store a place where anyone can feel welcome, come present ideas on how to improve our town and just be part of the community,” he said.
The Ditty Bag Market and Cafe, located at 7 Rooselvelt Ave. in Mystic, is well on its way to that goal.
Tucked along Route 1 across from the Amtrak train station, the business is not particularly flashy or decorative from the outside. Those who walk inside, however, are met with a cozy couch space and work table at the front of a well-stocked store and cafe that offers a selection of foods, candles, cleaners, fresh-brewed coffee and other products including reuseable bags, as the business name suggests.
Those who visit can stop for a friendly conversation, ask about any products or even try a sample from the detergents and other products that consumers can purchase by the ounce if they would like.
“Some products, like our milk from Terra Firma Farm, may not be completely plastic-free, but we are constantly working to look for better, yet sustainable options and that is one of the best solutions right now,” Hine explained. “With a product like the milk, we are remaining local so that we can visit the farm and see how the operation works, and so that we are eliminating the impact of having to transport products around the state or bring them in from other states.”
The business model isn’t one that has taken off in northeast U.S. states just yet, Hine admitted, but draws models used by successful ventures on the west coast and in Europe.
The store allows customers to bring their own containers and purchase products by weight, Hine explained, allowing patrons to explore different ways they could make small adjustments that could help have a big impact on reducing waste.
Lauren St. Amour, a Mystic resident who visited the store Wednesday with her son, said she had heard about the store on Instagram and was attracted to the idea of a business that operated largely without the use of plastics. A Mystic resident herself, she said she saw the store as a good resource for those looking for ways to make a difference.
“I think this is a wonderful opportunity for people in the community to make a difference,” St. Amour said. “Our family has been trying to find ways to reduce our footprint and this is a great local resource for that.”
Although the store itself has been open for just over three weeks, the concept is one that both Hine and store manager Deniz Kayhan said this week had been brewing for the past two years. Hine still remembers walking into a Mystic-area store two summers ago after the business had shifted to an all-organic model as part of an effort to provide sustainability.
Hine said the goals of that store, which has since closed, were different than his own when it came to environmental sustainability, but the visit made him think that perhaps he could find success in the growing market of eco-friendly products.
“We didn’t have anything quite like it. There was nowhere residents could go to just ask questions and be successful,” he said.
After speaking with friends, he said he knew that it would be important to move forward in establishing a business himself if he were going to see a zero-waste store open. With the help of SCORE, a business-based organization that aims to help start ups and small businesses, and assistance from town staff and personnel with the Ledge Light Health District.
Hine and Kayhan did not know each other yet at that point, Kayhan explained, but she too had gone through her own experiences and was looking to see a zero-waste store open in the Mystic area. After finding some roadblocks along her own path, she learned about Hine’s efforts late last year when her best friend, Bella Langlois, worked together with Hine on Bob Statchen’s campaign for a state senate seat.
When Hine was ready to begin hiring staff earlier this year, Kayhan said Langlois immediately told her about the job and she reached out to Hine. The two connected instantly, Hine said, and he credited her with hitting the ground running, saying she became a valuable business partner almost immediately.
“This store isn’t just about selling products. It’s about connecting with people, and it’s about building a better community for the future,” Kayhan said.
The two work alongside two other employees, Hine said, and the team mentality has helped expedite efforts to make the new business grow. By the end of July, both Hines and Kayhan said they hope to have launched the educational component, with the first to focus on a yet unidentified environmental issue.
The two said that each program would include not only a discussion, but result in an action item for residents to do in order to remain active, such as writing a letter to a legislator or taking action to make a change in daily habits. The programs will continue to be hosted periodically, and most should remain free of charge.
They will also continue to build out their online presence — you can find the store on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheDittyBagMarketandCafe/ — and work to improve their space and enhance the opportunities and product options available for local residents.
“We are continuing to look at ways to make full use of our space, and to make the biggest difference we can in our little section of the world,” Hine said.