Wild Mountain Thyme closes after 48 years

By HAEUN PARK

After 48 years of supplying the town of Middlebury with handpicked clothing and eclectic thrift finds, Wild Mountain Thyme closed its doors on Sunday, Jan. 9. Paula Israel ’76, the boutique’s owner, cited retirement as the reason for its closure. 

“I’ve known I wanted to transition to retirement for years,” Israel said. “I just wanted to wait until I was 65 until I made any moves because of Medicare and Social Security.” 

Israel’s late husband Allen Israel established Wild Mountain Thyme in 1971. Israel herself started working at the store shortly after graduating from Middlebury. Over the years it became the oldest single-owned business in town.

When asked the secret behind its staying power, Israel emphasized the relationships with her customers. 

“We have always prioritized customer service,” she said. “We’ve had incredible relationships with the people that come into our store. They’re more like family than customers, in a way.”

Kitty Hall, who worked at Wild Mountain Thyme for 40 years, said the most important aspect of helping a customer was being a good listener. 

“You had to listen for when customers wanted your help, listen to what they were looking for, and then help them to the best of your ability by offering what you had in the store,” Hall said. “Clothing has the ability to change someone’s mood. When someone comes in saying, ‘Oh I don’t like what I’m wearing,’ or ‘I need something for this party,’ you listen to what they want and, with clothing, you have an ability to uplift them.”

Israel noted that, oftentimes, people would pop in the store just to stay and chat with the workers. 

“You never knew what would happen,” she said. “It could be a therapy session, it could be whatever — just people talking. There were some great conversations over time. The relationships with my friends started with them coming into my store. That’s how I met everybody.”

This atmosphere of unpredictability extended to the store’s merchandise.

“You never knew what you would find here,” Israel said. “And I think that was something that people liked. They would come in, but they didn’t know what they were going to find, and they were always surprised pleasantly.” 

In the final days of Wild Mountain Thyme’s operations, employee Jen Overkirch sold fixtures, racks and the last of the store’s merchandise thinned out by deep discounts.

“It’s been pretty amazing,” Overkirch reflected on her past years working for the store. “Paula and Allen have been really great employers, and I’ve been very fortunate to work for a small business — a family business at that. It really provided my family with comfort and security especially as I’m raising children. Not to mention I’ve had amazing customers who I’ve built long term friendships with.” 

Overkirch’s next steps are to fill her days with being a mother. Israel, on the other hand, wants to focus on doing less stuff and enjoy retirement. 

“I’m a very busy person, so I just want to dial back a little bit and be able to have some more time for myself,” Israel said. 

Although Wild Mountain Thyme is now closed for business, Hall believes in the significance of the connections that the store created in its long history. 

“When I started the job, I was young — of course I wanted my paycheck,” Hall said. “But as I evolved, it became more than just a job. It became a family. Not just with the people I worked for, Allen and Paula, but also my coworkers. When you have that much time go by — I started when I was 30 and I’m now just retired at 70 — lots happen in between. It was a happy time in my life.”