A layoff from her job when she was 8 ½ months preg­nant resulted in Michelle Hatch deciding to open a country shop in the lower level of a split home.

“As you can imagine, it is very difficult to try and find a job at 8 ½ months pregnant, so I decided that I would take some time and stay home with my newly arriving little one,” she said. After a few months of being home with her baby, Michelle realized she needed something to keep her brain stimulated. That is how Bittersweet Blessings came to be.

“When I was laid off and a new mom, I needed to find places where I could put my son in a front pack and walk around and be around other people. I always found myself gravitating to country primitive shops where I could browse and be inspired,” she said. “Once I realized that my happy places were all country primitive shops, I knew that was the type of shop and categories I wanted to open.”

Choosing a name for her gift shop proved to be easy. “All I kept thinking was something that was so hard (losing my job while pregnant) really turned into the best thing in my life. Losing my job gave me the opportunity to spend some wonder­ful quality time with my new little one at the beginning of our journey together,” Michelle said. “It was then I realized that the stressful time of losing my job was truly a bittersweet blessing. As I started to think back through hard times in my life, I came to realize many things in life, while they always seem the hardest at the time, really can turn into wonderful opportunities and new beginnings.”

Bittersweet Blessings is in Chester, New Hampshire. The rural town has a population of about 5,000 and is one hour from the Atlantic Ocean, mountains, and Boston.

“We consider our location to be one of our main features. New Hampshire is a tax-free state, and so many folks travel numerous states (and often from Canada) just to visit us. Since we are not in a tourist area, those folks that are coming to our shop are coming there to visit us and shop with us,” she said. “We are fortunate in this aspect because what this means is that those folks who walk through the door already know what we are about and what we have to offer them and know that we’re going to provide them with exceptional service. It is very rare for any customer to leave with­out a purchase of some sort.”

An Entrepreneurial Spirit

Michelle grew up with her father owning a construction business. She majored in small-business management, moved into the tech world after graduating from college, and did small-business ventures on the side like making and selling quilts and blankets on eBay and later starting a jewelry business.

Her education and small-busi­ness endeavors helped her start Bittersweet Blessings after her layoff. She opened the gift shop in 2010, and after the first year, she knew she had the chance to make it a great business but needed more space.

The current 10,000-square-foot shop was purchased in 2012 and is owned by Michelle and her hus­band, Doug Patch. Situated on three acres in the center of Chester, it was built as a home in 1736 and has had numerous uses through the years.

“Choosing to make the leap from a tiny shop in the basement of a home to a massive shop was a scary decision but one I knew would be the key to success,” she said. It was one of the shop’s turning points.

The building needed many updates and repairs, and the major renovations took place after Doug joined the business full time and brought the barn on the property back to its true self. “When you walk in the barn, you see the true features that the beautiful build­ing was meant to display. Everyone who comes to the shop always comments on the barn and it being their favorite area,” Michelle said. “Starting in the month of July, we turn the barn into a winter wonderland with our Christmas in July events, and the customers always say it is their happy place.”

Doug Patch and Michelle Hatch.
The home of Bittersweet Blessings was built in 1736 and has had numerous owners and uses.
Country and primitive décor is found at Bittersweet Blessings.

Tried and True

Bittersweet Blessings is full of country and primitive home décor items, including florals, jar candles, lighting, furniture, pot­tery, and textiles. Michelle said the best-selling categories are their handmade products. They work with more than 100 artists from throughout the country. Seasonal items are the store’s star products.

“I want everyone who walks in the door to be able to leave their cares behind, even if only temporary, and live in the moment and be able to take a nice deep breath and find their Zen,” she said of her shop’s atmosphere. “We have always stayed pretty tried and true to what we first carried when we opened.”

Their focus on items that are handmade and made in the United States distinguishes them from other shops in the area. “We are blessed to have a large location, so that gives us the space to focus on variety versus a niche market,” Michelle said.

Her advice to those who recently opened a shop is to focus on their own business. “Successful people never need to worry about what others are doing. Keep an eye on trends and differentiate yourself from others with great customer service and your own personal love of what you are selling. Join together with other local shops to make the community even larger,” she said.

Giving back to the community plays a huge role in happiness, and Bittersweet Blessings does so in numerous ways. This includes donating to school fundraisers and helping those in need each holiday season.

When asked what contributes to their success, Michelle said it is Doug, family members, and their employees. Doug’s business background in warehouse and shipping management helped them expand their online presence, with their website now being almost 50% of their overall business.

They have a thriving online business, offering in-store pickup for local customers, as well as shipping. Social media platforms are used for marketing, with the aim to drive people to the website and convert them into buyers.

Seasonal open houses and special events are held throughout the year. Christmas in July is one of the most popular events, but Michelle said their personal favorites are the customer appreciation evenings. “A few times a year, we open up at night, and we serve complimentary appetizers, samples of our dips, yummy beverages, and, of course, Doug’s famous popcorn, which he makes on-site for all of our events,” she said.

Michelle said owning a business is not easy. “Doug and I have learned that taking time for us as often as we can is beneficial at home and at work. We work hard, and we play hard as well,” she said.


Business Name: Bittersweet Blessings
Location: 20 Chester St., Chester, NH 03036
Website: bittersweetblessings.com
Email: bittersweetblessingsonline@gmail.com
Phone: 603-845-3577
Employees: Six (including the owners)
Size: 10,000 sq. ft.
Trade Shows Attended: Market Square, Heritage Market, CDM (in past), and New England Made
Product Categories: florals, stuffed dolls, jar candles, lighting, furniture, artwork, redware, pottery, rugs, textiles, and linens
Social Media: Facebook
POS System: GoAntiquing!

The barn provides more space for displaying products.