Twenty Eight Local Artisans Under One Roof

February 1, 2017

Janine Riegler of Middletown has gone from selling bracelets on the beach for a couple bucks to operating one of the largest displays in the Belford-based store.

By Jay Cook|

BELFORD – A Belford business is hoping to capture the Jersey Shore spirit by shining sunlight on its creative talent.

Junction Boutique, located in the heart of the Belford Junction section of Middletown, is a one-stop shop destination displaying the wares of local artists.

“There’s so much local talent and it’s our neighbors – it’s the community,” said owner Chris Slater.

Previously located in an 800 square foot building beside Gem’s Bagels and Deli, Junction Boutique celebrated their grand reopening last Saturday at their new, 1500 square foot location at 79 Leonardville Rd.

In the two years it’s been open, the roster of talent has grown from eight to 28 career crafters. They specialize in homemade bracelets, paintings, crafts and body care products

It’s located in a bustling section of Middletown known as Campbell’s Junction – a busy crossroads between Routes 35 and 36 that is home to businesses like the longtime Sabato’s butcher shop, the new Belford Brewery, the Swagger barber shop, acclaimed Belford Bistro, Good Shepherd Book & Gift Shop and Chiafullo’s and Valentino’s.

The Junction Boutique’s growing popularity led to the search for a new home base, said Slater.

“All the artisans were asking for more space, and we had people asking us to join, and we couldn’t take anybody else on,” she said. “So we came here. It had to be in the Junction.”

The crafters pay for booth space in the building, which ranges between $75 and $300 a month. Some take turns shop-keeping by spending one day a week tending the register and helping prospective buyers.

Jeanine Riegler was one of the first to have a space in the original Junction Boutique. Her business – That’s How I Knot – specializes in what she describes as “original handmade macramé jewelry.”

Riegler started out selling bracelets on the beach during the summertime. Now, she has turned that interest into a business venture, and occupies one of the largest spaces in Junction Boutique.

Leonardo resident Kris Whittles is co-owner of the soap shop Wood Box Soap at Belford Junction Boutique.

With prices ranging from $10 single-charm bracelets to elaborate $35 pieces with multi-colored stones, That’s How I Knot is also cultivating its brand on social media. She finds there are good benefits to having a fixed business space.

“With a brick and mortar place to send people, I think it’s more professional,” Riegler said. “I think people love that they’re able to come in to see it and touch it.”

Along the back wall of Junction Boutique, there is a refreshing fragrance in the air. Two Leonardo moms have built their business out of a necessity.

Kris Whittles and Camille Miele, who are co-owners of the soap shop Wood Box Soap, both have family who deal with eczema. They often discussed how they could not find a remedy on the market.

Using goat milk products, which they buy in bulk from Whole Foods, the company has crafted 22 different soaps named after local landmarks and areas, along with lines of body butters, lotions and bath bombs.

Their most popular body soap is a coffee style, which uses coffee provided to them by Jersey Shore Coffee Roasters, a Leonardo-based coffee shop. Currently, that soap is on backorder.

“We’re just keeping it local, and the fact that we’re supporting other businesses in Monmouth County is tremendous,” Whittles said. “I’ve lived in Middletown my whole life, and this is the first business of this kind.”

Whittles also says the positive effects from goat milk are endless, which she claims has over 50 different vitamins and minerals that have anti-aging and anti-inflammatory benefits. Wood Box Soap also does not use any commercial preservatives, such as formaldehyde or parabens.

The soap-making process is time consuming. It takes about six weeks for the necessary oils to solidify into soap. Each batch also yields roughly 36 pieces, which are individually boxed by Whittles and Miele. Each bar costs $7.

Although Whittles says Wood Box Soap has had offers to move up the commercial food chain, she wants to keep the company its current size.

“I don’t want to be in a big box store,” she said. “We want to be in a local Jersey setting, and that’s good for me.”

On that same back wall, on the opposite side of the store, resides a local business that occupies its own niche in the Junction Boutique market.

Kathleen Edinger of Belford is jumpstarting her tea blend business with a spot at the Junction Boutique, which showcases 28 artisans.

“Chris is so cognizant of the fact that we’re all in it together,” said Kathleen Edinger, founder and owner of TeaScapes, a tea company based out of Belford. “It’s not her place, it’s our place.”

Edinger, who has a background in physical therapy, moved into Junction Boutique in August of last year. Working with a wholesale tea distributer in Kentucky, she is watching her business grow each day.

Currently, TeaScapes offers eight teas, six of which are signature blends that she, along with her family, have helped create. Each container of tea sells for $15.

With awareness gained from space at Junction Boutique, Edinger now has the opportunity to soon move her operation into a full-time space, located just a town over.

“I found that Atlantic Highlands will fit the bill for me because it is a ferry town that is right there,” she said. “We have the boating community in the summer, and I’m right on the street of First Avenue.”

For shop owner Slater, Junction Boutique stems from a love for personalizing gifts. With that continued theme in mind, she sees no reason why the business won’t flourish in the future.

“It can continue to grow with the different mediums,” she said. “You can focus on all the local talent and keep bringing new things in – there’s always a twist to it.”

Junction Boutique artisans will participate in the Made in Monmouth exhibition April 8 at OceanFirst Bank Center at Monmouth University. On hand to offer congratulations on the new location was Freeholder Tom Arnone, who is the liaison to the county Division of Economic Development, and Middletown Township Mayor Gerald Scharfenberger, who both came to help cut the ceremonial ribbon.

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