By Jennifer Farnsworth
Starting a business comes with a set of challenges for anyone. Starting a business after moving across the globe takes someone who has to be truly committed. Among those people are Judith Ann Connolly, a self-described transplant from the United Kingdom whose unique personality can be found in an eclectic collection at the Burnt Hills antique shop she both owns and manages.
Connolly opened the Northumbrian Cottage, 813 Saratoga Road, last summer after spending 37 years as an educator in the U.K., specifically as a secondary school principal. Connolly met her husband, Tim, in Dubai. After retiring, she moved to Schenectady. She said she didn’t really know anyone when she first came to the U.S.
She decided to take up painting. It was that decision that led her to becoming an entrepreneur.
“I did not know a single soul when I came here but decided to have watercolor lessons and chose Mary Francis Millet as my teacher. The relationship blossomed. Mary actually came to my wedding in the U.K., and she introduced me to a wide network of artists and artisans,” said Connolly.
She began doing volunteer work and developed a keen interest in art. She even managed an art gallery for a period of time. It evolved into the idea to open a shop that combines everything she loves.
“The idea for the Northumbrian Cottage was born exactly a year ago. The name of the business is my home county in the U.K. My vision has been to provide a warm and welcoming environment for people to shop for antiques, vintage and contemporary home decor,” said Connolly.
Connolly said she focuses on her displays. Each room serves as a setting that allows her clients to be able to envision what the items will look like in their own homes. She works alone, but has some close friends who have learned to have an eye for spotting quality antiques and collectibles for the shop. Connolly said surrounding herself with people she knows and trusts is one of the secrets to being a successful business owner.
Connolly has a soft spot for artists and their work. She offers a space for local artists to sell their work on commission. She noted the circle of people wanting to bring their work to the cottage is expanding rapidly.
Connolly said there have been obstacles she has had to overcome, mostly in establishing a name for herself.
“There have been mountains to climb, maintaining and expanding a client group is difficult when you first open. I have been very fortunate to have a great landlord, a hugely supportive husband and friends who have helped me promote the business,” she said.
“Planning is crucial,” she said. “I deliberately took three months before I opened so I could get it right and be confident that I was ready to run a business. I now know that the period after Christmas can be difficult so I have worked hard to increase foot traffic to the store with special events.”
She recommended that anyone looking to start a business should connect with other small business owners through groups like the chambers of commerce.
“Other local businesses have been so supportive. Quite a few businesses around Burnt Hills have opened at the same time and it is good to see growth in the area,” said Connolly.
“My life has changed dramatically, I love the thrill of hunting down unusual items for the store and meeting with consignors who have wonderful things to pass onto another home,” said Connolly.
Northumbrian Cottage can be reached at 526-5311. Its website is www.thenorthumbriancottage.com.