When Winona went back to Winona, she discovered the local small businesses that comprise the town’s character and power the community. Businesses like these are essential to their neighborhoods, whether in small towns or big cities—they reflect the creative energy of an area and build meaningful connections between citizens.
To celebrate the local businesses that provide valuable cultural and practical touchstones for hometowns of all sizes, we’re kicking off a series on “Local Love.” Today we’re featuring The Bower Studio, a gift shop, herbal apothecary, and studio space in Amherst, MA, owned by partners Vincent Frano and Isa Wang and inspired by the natural world.
Squarespace: Where are you located? How did you choose that location?
Bower Studios: We are currently located in Amherst, MA. While our business was founded in Boston in 2011, we made the decision to move to Western Massachusetts so that we could afford to open an apothecary and gift shop, as well as more studio space to create our handmade products. Our flagship store opened in 2015 in rural Pelham, MA, just 7 miles east of Amherst. In our fourth year of being the only store in Pelham, we happened to connect with the owners of Kitchen + Goods in Amherst. They had split their large storefront into two stores and were looking for a like-minded store to rent out the extra space. In the fall of 2019 we closed our Pelham store and officially opened our doors in Amherst. Our new location has allowed us to expand our gift shop and herbal apothecary while still running our plantable greeting card business. Amherst is a great town, too, with monthly arts and culture activities and close proximity to five local universities and colleges. Now we host a monthly Arts Night to feature local artists. We have become one of the only two apothecaries in our area and our location allows us to better serve the herbal community.
SQSP: Where is your hometown? Has your hometown influenced your business in any way?
BS: Isa’s hometown is in Fairfield County, Connecticut and I am originally from Northern Virginia. Both of us grew up with a deep appreciation for nature, which is certainly reflected in our cards. The place that had the biggest impact on our business is actually Boston. We both moved there in 2009, which introduced us to a vibrant arts and craft scene along with a burgeoning herbal community. Through both of these groups we made connections with fellow crafters, artists, and herbalists—many of whom we continue to buy products from to stock in our store. We felt empowered to expand our own business. Being a part of a community of small handcrafted business owners, we've come to appreciate the importance of mutual support. We're able to help small farms, herbalists, and crafts persons to continue doing what they're passionate about by introducing their products to more customers. We’re grateful that the business is not only able to support us but also provide jobs for others—all while doing something that benefits the local economy and allows us all to be creative.
SQSP: What role does your digital presence play in engaging with your local community?
BS: The retail industry is evolving so rapidly with the expansion of ecommerce. In order to be competitive, brick-and-mortar stores must have a strong digital presence. When we travel to local fairs and craft shows it’s our opportunity to introduce ourselves to new customers—but after that’s over they need to be able to look at our business card, go to our website, and be convinced to make a special trip to find our shop in Amherst. Squarespace allows us to represent our store online and communicate what makes us special. We post calls for art, information about our fundraising projects, and maintain an herbal blog. Our mailing list allows us to stay in touch with the community and let them know what events are coming up. Since we are one of the few herbal apothecaries in the area, herbalists are searching online for places to buy herbs, and our website provides them with a full list of all our products. Our store is a little off the beaten path, so our digital presence has been essential to our success. We’re always surprised by the amount of foot traffic we get from people who have seen us online—especially folks who traveled from out of state!