MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Cat Fisher sees opening an outpost of her two South Orange stores, Sadie’s and Kitchen a la Mode, in Maplewood as a way to get to know new customers. The locations are not too close together, she says. After all, when she offered Kitchen a la Mode wares at Maplewood’s street fair MayFest this year she found some people hadn’t known her stores existed. She laughed, “and it’s only two miles away!”
She is one of the founding anchor tenants inside General Store Cooperative, an almost 3,000 square foot space on Springfield Avenue which just wrapped up the first week of its soft opening. The other anchors are Good Bottle Refill Shop, Love Where You Live by Mrs. Meshugga, and Three Daughters Baking Co., which is currently building out a kitchen in the rear of the shop. All have women owners at the helm.
Fisher participated in a General Store spring pop up shop in this location with things from both her stores. “It was nice to have a trial run and see that it would work.” As the first week ended she didn’t have sales numbers yet but she looked at her inventory “and just from seeing what’s missing it looks like we’re doing well.”
She said her best sellers are “almost anything that you can connect to a philanthropic brand.” At Sadie’s, the brand Out of Print donates to literacy programs. United by Blue, a clothing line out of Philadelphia, uses some of its profits to organize ocean clean-ups. This location will carry lots of kids’ items, including clothing and rain boots.
At Kitchen a la Mode, reusable items are popular, “anything that reduces waste, which complements the refill shop really well.”
“It’s a great community of women,” Fisher says of her fellow vendors. “It allows us to share experiences and strengths.” The smaller vendors and makers displaying their wares will rotate seasonally, she said, with holiday items arriving not far down the road.
“Cat was one of the first people to embrace our cooperative retail model,” said the collective’s co-owner Amy Howlett. She and her partner Deborah Engel, both Maplewood residents, also run the coffee bar; the bar, whose actual bar was made by one of the few male vendors from pallet planks, also carries kombucha and nitro coffee and will rent you a to-go cup if you don’t bring your own. Howlett describes their first foray as a collective, a month-long holiday pop up last December in South Orange, as “a huge success. We had about 75 makers and businesses participate.” They are planning to do it again for the 2019 season.
Howlett was considering rotating a pop up location, but “we fell in love with this strip of Springfield. There are a lot of long term established businesses here. But it was lacking in retail. And good coffee.” They chose the same open, light filled space half a block from a public parking lot that they used for their spring pop up.
All three of the other anchors are new to brick and mortar retail. South Orange resident Lisa Buber, owner of Love Where You Live, began with a custom clothing line on an Etsy store called Mrs. Meshugga, which had a great local following. She started with the General Store at last year’s holiday shop with lots of locally themed products. “I love working with Deb and Amy,” she said. “They incubated me as a local brand.”
Good Bottle Refill Shop owner Deanna Taylor of Maplewood said the seed of the idea for her business was a family New Year’s resolution they posted in the kitchen: Less Waste. Now customers can bring their own containers and bottles to fill with personal care and cleaning products. Pastry chef Erica Leahy, a South Orange resident, will bring her 18 years of working in pastry and baking at high end restaurants such as Morristown’s Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen to Three Daughters Baking Co.
General Store Cooperative will have a grand opening after the coffee bar and bakery are complete in a month or so. Fisher said the soft opening until then “gives us a chance to tweak some things” like hours, vendors, and inventory.