Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Fall 2019 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
Monica Cory knows from personal experience that shopping can be therapeutic.
Cory began her career in the nonprofit sector in order to best serve others. However, difficult work with survivors of domestic violence and children in the foster care system left Cory experiencing burnout.
“After a while, everything just becomes gray,” she said. “I felt like I was losing myself in the energy of my job.”
In order to brighten her days, Cory turned to a favorite pastime: shopping.
“Sometimes I would just have to go shopping to see color,” she said. “How could I bring this color into this gray world for other people? If I was caught up in the grayness of their world, then their world needed color, too.
“My husband was like, ‘You’re going to get a shopping addiction,’ but I didn’t really buy a lot. I would be inspired just by walking around Twelve Oaks Mall,” she said.
Shopping has always been a part of Cory’s life, with her love fostered from a young age.
“I’m a shopping freak,” she said. “I used to go to garage sales when shopping with my grandma. She always had ‘secret money,’ and I wasn’t allowed to tell Granddad where we got it.”
Today, Cory uses her love of shopping to brighten the days of others at her shop, Aurora’s Cottage in Elk Rapids.
“My husband is always like, ‘I don’t know how you did it. I don’t know how you made a career out of shopping.’ And I’m like, ‘Don’t be jealous.’”
Aurora’s Cottage grew out of necessity. After quitting her job, ditching all the trappings of success, including a big house, and moving to Elk Rapids five years ago, Cory needed to downsize. She was drawn to refurbishing or repainting her own items before selling them in an antique booth.
“I kind of got re-in touch with that creative side of me because I was no longer working my job,” she said.
As Cory grew more successful refurbishing and reselling, her antique booth eventually expanded into Aurora’s Cottage. Today, her love of shopping manifests in the inventory for her store.
“She’s always on the hunt,” said Laura Savoie of the Elk Rapids Chamber of Commerce. “In fact, it’s dangerous for me to go in there.”
Cory uses her own taste to gauge what will sell in the store.
“I only buy things that I love — I mean, I might end up with them all day,” she said. “If things go south, it’s all mine.”
Cory said she looks for items she feels a strong connection to and that she thinks her customers will, too. “That connection that you feel — it’s whatever reminds you of who you really are. Sometimes it is nostalgia because you remember how you felt as a little kid, and that’s pretty much who you really are,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a color, sometimes it’s a texture — sometimes it’s just something really weird, like a goofy animal.”
Cory also loves items with a story, as do her customers.
“I think that people are, even in a materialistic way, searching for a connection,” she said. “You can buy and sell anything, and you can make money anywhere, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re connecting to anyone or anything.”
Refurbishing items can be a good option for frugal shoppers, Cory says.
“Take pieces that you connect with, at a price that you can live with, and then try to re-imagine it,” she said. She advises shoppers not to be afraid of changing items, saying, “If no one’s going to love it like it is, then it’s almost your duty to help it like you would a person.”
Trepidation can get in the way of a DIY project, Cory said, and the first step is to just dip the brush into the paint. She keeps paints by the cash register so she can always work on something between customers.
“People are really intimidated by it; they don’t trust themselves and they don’t trust their instincts,” she said. “It’s almost like coaching them into it; they just need a little confidence.”
At the end of the day, Cory said that her first goal is still to help people, and she now does so through sharing her love of shopping and refurbishing items with them.
“I’m still helping people, and when I started out in nonprofit, that was the goal: to help families and to help people have a better life,” she said. “I thought that you had to be in social work and human services to accomplish that, and I don’t think you do.”