29. profile: boston general store

we've been big fans of boston general store for some time now. we love their philosophy of stocking well-made items that can be cared for to last for generations. by building strong relationships with talented artisans, they are able to offer products that are not only useful, but tell a great story.

we had the pleasure of meeting owner april gabriel for coffee and a tour of her beautiful and historic workspace. greeting us were april, olive (her adorable labradoodle) and walls of the impeccably curated goods that we've come to expect from boston general store's website and pop-ups. we discussed the inspiration that lead april to opening the store and even got a peak at some of her favorite items for spring:

your home/studio is over 250 years old. we'd love to hear more about its history.
i moved from texas around 5 years ago and lived in this tiny condo in south boston. if i wanted to start my own business from home, i really had to get out of the city so i could get some space. dedham was completely off the radar and we just happened across it one day driving. i was trained as an architect so architectural history is really important to me. what's more historic than a 250 year old home? i mean, the british built my home. crazy to think about. half the house was originally a tin shop and 40 or so years after the tin shop was built, they picked up and moved an old tavern from across the street and joined it with the shop. so now you can see two distinct building types in my home, not to mention seven fireplaces and the tavern's original cooking fireplace. back in the day, they always built ceilings really low in order to keep heat in (among other things) but since they were both commercial buildings, they are much taller than normal. we started to do some work in the basement and found a secret passage area behind a fireplace. we are unearthing all kinds of items throughout history, such as cans, jars, etc. it's definitely fitting for a general store to take home in this house.

do you have a favorite or most inspirational place?
there is a place close to great barrington, ma (more specifically, egremont, ma) where i spent summers with my nanna as a child. down the street from her house is a river where we used to walk, have picnics and talk for hours. i would make her wade to an island in the middle of the river and we would just lay there and watch the water flow by and the trees whisper in the wind. there was an old condemned bridge that they blocked off so there was absolutely no traffic; just her, me and nature. they've since fixed the bridge, but that place was always a location for big dreams and some serious thinking. whenever i go back i still get that feeling...there is really nothing like it.

what inspired you to start your own business?
you can probably guess from the last question, but it was my nanna. her and her husband opened a laundromat in great barrington back in the day and they worked their butts off to make a life for themselves. they lived simply but were able to build their dream home and send their daughter to college (not to mention sending their two grandchildren to college). she understood the value of a hard-earned dollar, which meant she was selective in what she bought. in my whole life, i never saw her buy anything for her home and that's because she bought products when she was young that lasted a lifetime. she never bought into the next new thing or fancy gadget. she bought what was tried and true and took care of those items.

most memories of my summers revolved around being out in nature and in the kitchen. i can still remember the bowls she used to mix delicious molasses cookies, and to this day they are still used in my mom's house and i imagine they will be used in my house too. i strive to find products that my nanna would have loved and used. no gimmicks or fluff...just really well-made products that have an essential function.

what criteria do you use when curating the products you carry?
i have a series of questions i ask myself when looking for new products:

-how is this product made? is it made with care and responsibly? do the makers really put their heart into it?
-is this product functional/useful? is it well-designed (including packaging)?
-does this product have value? is it priced correctly? (this is a hard question because everyone puts a different value on different items.)
-do i like working with the vendor? are they responsive and reachable? part of what i love about my job is that i get to meet really talented people chasing after their dreams. being able to talk with them is essential for what i do. it let's me convey their hard work and dedication to the customers, so people can feel like they are supporting and becoming part of something really important.
-i have to test the products. do i love using it?
-would nanna love using this product?

those are the main things i look for. it's never an exact science and always trial and error.

do you have the opportunity to visit some of the artisans behind the products you stock? is having a collaborative relationship with them important?
it is 100% essential and one of my favorite parts of the business. whenever i get a chance, i visit with my artisans and i try to post photos and interviews i have with them for customers to read. we are their connection to what customers think of their product and what they are looking for. if we can all work together, then they can produce a product that is really welcomed by the public. design is always a work in progress and every artisan i know is always tweaking their craft, so getting feedback is really helpful.

what is your dream collaboration?
i've thought about this a lot since we are working towards a brick and mortar as we speak. there is a company out in portland, oregon called beam & anchor. they own a warehouse that has a retail shop on the ground floor and artisan workshops above. the store allows for the artisans to have a working area and a display area close by. plus, walking into the space you just feel the creative juices flowing. i love it there! i want to create something similar here and add a coffee shop - because coffee makes everything better :)

what is the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?
i spent 5 years in a design school, so it's hard to pick just one piece of advice - i was bombarded with them, lol. i would say don't expect your first attempt to be perfect. just get something out there and work on it and adjust it. all the most creative people don't just pop out perfect work their first try. they are always working and molding to get it where they want it. boston general store started with around 10 products, and most of those i don't sell anymore. it's always a work in progress, but it's the process that you gotta love.

what is the best piece of creative advice you have to give?
i will give you two...the above advice that was given to me, and don't let negativity get you down. it is essential to not wear your heart on your sleeve. not everyone is going to be a fan, but as long as you're doing what you love and you're doing the best you can...then really, what else can you do?

while boston general store is currently scouting the perfect location for a brick and mortar shop, there will be plenty of opportunities to meet april and view the products in person this spring. their successful series of pop-ups with forge baking company continues over the next two weekends and they will have a weekly residency at the sowa open market starting may 3rd. you can also head to their website to purchase the items photographed for this story (and much more!).

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