BELFAST, Maine — Meg Reilly grew up spending summers sailing with her family in the waters around Mount Desert Island.
Instead of watching television or listening to the radio, she and her siblings spent their downtime on the boat on such low-tech activities as reading books, playing cards and studying knots. Those hours have paid off for the 41-year-old woman, who has parlayed her skill with maritime knots into her downtown Belfast business, The Sail Locker, which opened last summer.
“When I’m sitting watching a movie, I like to do something,” she said. “It’s nice to have something to keep your hands busy.”
In Reilly’s capable hands, the traditional maritime ropework made of 100-percent cotton or manila rope becomes vases, trivets, keychains, doormats, drawer pulls, coasters and more. Before opening up her bricks-and-mortar store, she sold her crafts on an online Etsy store called Olio Designs. The online store did well — it was named one of Martha Stewart Weddings favorite Etsy crafters in 2010 — and Reilly sold as many of her creations as she could make. But something had to give.
“I knew I had a product people wanted,” she said. “I just came to the realization that I couldn’t possibly make enough to support myself.”
Then she had an idea: What if she opened a store where she could sell her own goods and crafts by other makers? Reilly had made a number of good connections through Etsy and knew other artists and craftspeople from her days at Mount Desert Island High School and beyond. She purchased goods to sell, found a space on a busy Belfast corner and opened in June.
“I like knowing where everything comes from,” Reilly said of her store. “It’s also very personal.”
She sells what she likes, with a strong focus on Maine-made crafts with a nautical twist. Even on a bitterly cold winter day, her uncluttered shop has a feel of summer. Among Reilly’s picks are a line of marine signal flags that spell words including “Maine,” “Family” and “Belfast”; night lights and lampshades made of nautical charts; pillows shaped like buoys and 100 percent soy candles from Seawicks in Damariscotta, in such evocatively named fragrances as Berries and Fog, Coastal Storm and Island Hopping.
“Summer was really great,” Reilly said of her business. “A lot of cottage owners came in, and a lot of what I have in here fits that decor.”
This winter, she plans to stay open, though with reduced hours. Still, you can often find Reilly sitting at her worktable, deftly turning “lots and lots” of rope into whatever home goods strike her fancy. She makes about 95 percent of the ropework for sale in the shop and outsources the remaining portion to a friend she taught to make keychains. Importing goods from China is not in her business plan. She will continue to sell online but has been enjoying her store more than she dreamed she would.
“I do love it. I really love meeting people,” Reilly said. “It’s an exciting new adventure. We’ll see what happens.”