Springtime is a time of new beginnings – of transformation. And what better vehicle for transformation than a cocoon? So simple and yet so complex, it is a real-life fairy realm where magic happens. For Ann Marie Fiore, the owner of the Cocoon store in Bluffton’s Promenade, this little piece of nature holds many meanings.
When I asked her where she got the name for her store, she told me this: “There were just two girls in the family, and my father desperately wanted a son.” She recounted that her late father was a man who liked to tell stories when they were growing up. “One of the stories he would tell is that if I wanted to be a handsome boy for my father, I needed to collect string and ribbon and be good and put it in a box.
“I put it in my little Capezio ballet slipper box . . . and when the box was full I went to my father and said, ‘Ok. I am now ready.’ I picked out a tree in the backyard, because he had told me he would teach me how to spin a cocoon. I’d go in a girl, and I’d come out a handsome boy for my father. And I was all ready, and then he finally had to tell me I couldn’t really do it.”
Perhaps that was devastating news for an elementary-aged girl, but it was a source of inspiration for her adult counterpart. When the little girl Ann Marie grew up, she worked in retail for many years, moving up through the ranks while she collected various skill sets along the way. Upon moving to the Lowcountry, she decided to open up a store of her own in 2012.
“When it was time for me to pick a name for the business – and the business was originally more home goods and custom bedding, so when you think of home and being cozy, it’s your cocoon, and the name just came to me. . . . It’s what the store is about, but it’s also a very personal name for me.” Because her father was so influential in the name, Ann Marie says that she is thankful that he was able to see the store’s creation before he passed away a couple years ago.
Over the past five years since its inception, the store has made a transformation similar to that of a creature inside a cocoon. Though it began more as a homewares shop, Ann Marie claims it has now morphed into a collaboration between her desires and that of her customers’.
“The business has really evolved to what my customers are telling me they want it to be and they need it to be, so now, we are predominantly clothing – I’ve just started venturing into shoes . . . jewelry . . . books . . . baby goods. . . . When they ask me to get something in, I explore that avenue.” Considering that her career roots began in clothing retail at Ann Taylor, she didn’t have a problem making the transition.
Although the theme could certainly be deemed “coastal,” its influences come from more places than just the Lowcountry. Having spent many summers on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, Ann Marie became a lover of navy blue and striped awnings. The bright colors in her store harken back to her family’s years spent in the Florida Keys.
But with her childhood home in New Jersey and her oldest son still in Key West, how did her husband and Ann Marie decide to move to the South Carolina Lowcountry? “This whole area is really just a blend – and the whole look is just a blend – of . . . Long Beach Island and Key West . . . which is why we settled here. We thought it was just a nice combination of the two.” The fact that Bluffton is halfway between the two locations doesn’t hurt either.
In 2015, the store moved from Sheridan Park to the Promenade, and Ann Marie couldn’t be happy. “This move has opened me up to a much wider customer base. . . . Definitely tourists, but my main clientele base is . . . the ladies of the gated communities who love to come down here for lunch with their friends.”
Although Ann Marie doesn’t have time for much else beyond her store, that’s okay in her eyes. “They’re very loyal customers, and that’s probably the most rewarding part of it; building these relationships with the customers who support my store and getting to know all of them, I feel like it’s a very personal store.”
One of Ann Marie’s other “personal” touches to Cocoon included the addition of her greeter, guard dog, and friend, Mia. A Corgi-Jack Russell Terrier mix, Mia was a rescue dog that Jerry and Ann Marie adopted from Rogue Rescue after the death of their two other dogs. She was originally part of a litter of seven, and her mom had been hit by a car and killed. Mia, or “Misty” as she had been called in the shelter, was the last one of her litter to be adopted.
“I had already picked the name of Mia, so it was a very easy transition for her. And actually, our black lab’s name was Bella, but we called her ‘Bella’ so many times that we nicknamed her ‘Mia Bella,’ so she’s our beautiful girl.”
Fortunately, Mia has adapted to the retail lifestyle quite nicely and greets all the customers before making her way back to her bed. Or her fort. Or one of her other hideouts. “I like to say, when she’s at work, she’s a Corgi. When she gets home, she’s a Jack Russell.” Translation: while Mia may be calm and content to fall asleep on the job during the day, when she gets home, she’s a flying furball of energy.
But that’s okay, because springtime is also a time for frolicking, right?