WHAT WE LOVE: Purveyor of quality goods for the whole family in beautifully outfitted stores inspired by small town general stores with a focus on zero waste.
WHERE: Two Boston area stores, one in Brookline and the other in Dedham a short distance outside.
WHO: Former architect, April Gabriel, who also designed the stunning spaces.
Why did you name your shop Boston General Store? I’ve always had a love for general stores. Growing up in Texas I would visit small town general stores and be fascinated with their floor to ceiling wares. When looking for a name I started with the simplest option that described my love for general stores. I was shocked it was still available but it was so I snatched it up.
Who designed the Boston General Store? I did. Before I opened the general store I was an architect. So I used a lot of my background building out the store.
What is Boston General Store best known for? Definitely our sustainable goods. We have a great refill station as well as zero waste alternatives for folks to use.
What are the “must have items” in Boston General Store? If a customer came in and asked me to pick them a collection of products that are most popular or embodies our shop I would give them: A teakwood and tobacco candle by P.F Candle Co, a balsam fir filled pillow that says “Welcome to Massachusetts” by Paine’s , A tube of McCrea’s Black Lava Caramels, A bottle of our own Woods Room Spray that we make in our shop, and a rag wool beanie made by Upstate Stock in NY.
Where do you source the wares for Boston General Store? I’m always looking to provide a complete collection in each of our categories. A general store historically was the only place in town to shop so they had to have a pretty complete collection for a family’s needs. When I’m looking for new products I identify an area we are lacking and I look for the most local and best-made products. Sometimes that’s right around the corner from us but sometimes that means we have to go across the world for it. I think it also has a lot to do with personal connections we make with the makers. I’ve met some makers that I’ve felt so inspired and motivated by that I made room for them even though we weren’t looking for their product.
What makes Boston General Store unique? I think it’s the pure wide range of hard to find items we have. What other store could you find shoe polish, toothpaste, dusting brushes, hand printed scarves, and staplers all on one shelf?
Who are your customers? Since we carry so many products we really cater to a wide range of folks. We have penny candy for the kids, shaving supplies for men, skincare and makeup for ladies. We cater to everyone….young/old, male/female.
How has the internet impacted your business? I’ve always seen our website and social media as an essential puzzle piece to our business. We couldn’t exist without it and the website couldn’t be as successful without our brick and mortar locations. Just another piece in a big balancing act.
April Gabriel, Shopkeeper at Boston General Store
Who inspires you? My family really inspires me. My grandmother started a Laundromat in Great Barrington, Ma. It was the only laundry in the town and they worked day and night to make that business work. My Mom started a bed and breakfast on the Cape and works just as hard as my Nanna did to create something she can be proud of. I come from a long line of entrepreneurial women and I’m trying to keep the tradition going by creating a solid stable shop for my son to one day take over.
What inspires you? One of my favorite things to do is to travel to new cities and find all the unique small shops and see all the creative spaces they made. I’m always inspired and impressed by what people are creating and how hard they work to keep their dream going.
Before I was a shopkeeper, I…. was an architect. I was designing and renovating buildings. I was always interested in creating a website (for the design aspect of it), so I made a mock website of the type of shop I would want to have. There wasn’t any inventory and it wasn’t live or anything. My Nanna saw it and gave me my first 15k to actually buy the inventory and make the website live. That’s what I did. I would work as an architect by day and nights/weekends I would fill online orders and pop up at farmers markets. I realized a few years in that I enjoyed being around people more than strictly online so I quit my day job and opened our first location and then a year later our second.
Why did you open Boston General Store? Community. I love to be surrounded by community. Back in the day people would visit their local general store to stock up on supplies but also to hear the comings and goings in town. It’s not that simple these days but I wanted to give people a piece of that back.
Did you have prior retail experience? None, lol
The hardest lesson learned in starting a business? That you need a lot more capital up front then you think and there is never a typical 9-5 anymore.
Your favorite thing about owning an independent shop? Owning an independent shop gives you a lot of freedom for trial and error. You don’t have all the red tape that a large retailer has. You can get really creative and try things that might not work but you feel strongly about.
Your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? To start small and work up. I couldn’t imagine starting with nothing and creating a large store with thousands of products. I started with 10 and was only online. Having that small overheard gives you freedom to try things out and if it doesn’t work you can try over and over again until you get it right.
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be..? I’d still be designing buildings..hopefully shops for other folks!
What is your perfect day off in Boston? My perfect day would start with sleeping in until 10 (because I have a baby and that doesn’t happen anymore) breakfast sandwich and cappuccino at Tatte Bakery, quick trek out to Seed to Stem in Worcester to pick up plants and taxidermy, lunch at the Big Bear Café in Dedham, a visit to brattle bookshop downtown and finish off with a bowl of ramen at Genki Ya across the street from my shop in Brookline and a movie at the Brookline Community Theater.
Can you share your five favorite shops? A G Hendy & Co., Hastings, : L’Officine Universelle Buly, Paris; Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, Florence; Labour and Wait, London; and Velour Shop Vintage , Oregon.
What are your top social media tips? post consistently, make your style your own and stick with it, make it personal, interact with community, have fun.
I wish I could… sleep in my shop, is that weird?
ON THE FUTURE OF RETAIL
“Retail for small shops is getting really tricky with the big box stores and online chains. My opinion is that we are going to have to diversify so all our eggs aren’t in one basket. That means… yes have a brick and mortar shop as a home base but to also sell online, through social media, create your own products to wholesale, host workshops and community events and do pop ups in different neighborhoods. Anything to find your niche and keep everything moving.”
305 Harvard Street, Brookline & 626 High Street, Dedham
Shopkeeper Photo: Linda Campos
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