One of the things often lacking in the newspaper “biz” is followup stories on those previously published. It’s usually not for lack of desire, but rather because news has become such a never-ending, 24-hour cycle that more important stories are generated every day nationwide. Combine that with the fact that the size (page number) of a daily newspaper usually is determined by the amount of advertising, and it results in careful choices in what is to be published each day.
I am happy to say this week’s column is a followup to one of the profiles featured in a five-part series I wrote in 2014 titled “Shoestring Budgets.” It looked at people trying to get by in the world but not making a ton of money.
Katy Groet was working as a bartender at Vonnie’s Boathouse and Grille in the town of Geneva. She was living in Penn Yan, had a college degree, and was very happy doing what she was doing until she was able to figure out what she wanted to do “when she grew up.”
Now, almost seven years later at age 31, a lot has changed. She lives in Pittsford, is engaged, and is no longer a bartender.
A couple of years after the initial piece ran she read a blog post about teaching English abroad. She felt a real connection to the idea and found herself thinking about it night and day, and following up with research. It was something she decided she needed to do. She wanted to go far away — not from anything in particular but rather to a lot of potential good unknowns. It was just a part of her life’s journey.
Through Explore Asia, Katy taught English for a year to students in a small town in Thailand. The primary school with grades 1-6 had 700 students. Thai children in general have an ongoing education learning English, so Katy was able to communicate effectively with them. She was the only foreign teacher at the school.
Thailand is a safe country. Katy got around by bicycle, was “adopted” by many of the moms in the area who brought her to various markets and showed her places she might not have known about otherwise. They taught her the ins and outs of the culture there.
Needless to say, the experience was priceless and, in some ways, life changing.
I am Facebook friends with Katy and was aware of her Thai adventure in basic real time. I remember when she was leaving. The school gave her an emotional tribute. I found it very thought provoking.
One of the things she brought home with her was not an object of some kind; rather, it was a concept. In Thailand they are taught to “show face” and smile. In other words, if two motorbikes were to get in an accident, they don’t scream and argue and blame. Instead, they talk calmly, shake hands, and settle things in a positive manner. People don’t get mad about the most trivial things — a concept that is rare in the United States.
When she arrived back in the States, Katy felt sad because she missed Thailand. She went to work for a short spell at Vonnie’s but decided to reevaluate things. She stopped bartending and began collecting unemployment. It was during this time that she was living in Pittsford and needed to go to a bank in Palmyra. It was the closest branch.
Upon exiting the bank she headed across Main Street (Route 31) to a shop called Magnolia Resale. Katy loved the merchandise there and the general vibe of the place. The owner informed Katy she was thinking about selling the business to concentrate on her yoga studio.
Long story short, Katy’s store — named Smitten Collective — opened March 12. She purchased much of Magnolia’s inventory but has searched and curated many more items that are now on display. I thought all the vintage and great stuff was new, but rather it is “gently worn.” She also sells some waste-free products like soap. Plans are to include more locally made fare.
While opening during a pandemic is not easy, Katy reports things are going well. She said she is pretty fearless and was ready to jump in with both feet and do it.
I asked Katy how life is these days. She says she feels fulfilled and happy. The new store gives her a creative outlet that she needs, something that’s been missing in her life at times.
When I asked her about the name Smitten, she told me she wrote down a few words and that one just felt right. As far as the moth on her logo? She says the moth is a symbol of renewal.
After many years serving the people in the Geneva and Auburn areas with all their vacuum cleaner needs, Mr. Vac (previously featured in a “Bigger Picture”) is closing at the end of April. Feel free to stop by or call before then for any belt, bags and supply products.