CAPE MAY - Cindy Huf uses her Cape May store to subsidize her international travel and then finds interesting things to sell in her store.
This reinforcing loop has worked well for 26 years of globe-trekking and sales at her Good Scents home decor and incense store on the Washington Street Mall.
Huf, 56, of Lower Township, said big sellers this year are Turkish lamps like those that light the bazaars in Istanbul and Hawaiian pearl bracelets that she found through a supplier she met on a cruise in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
"When I first opened in 1986, I found this fragrance product in San Antonio," she said. "They made little wax chips for potpourri. We put them in clear, glass jars and it almost looked like a candy store. People would mix them to make their own combination of scents."
Then on a trip to Italy she took a liking to pottery by Giovanni DeSimone.
"It didn't really go with my store, but I didn't know any better. I was enthusiastic about it, so it sold," she said.
Gradually, she started seeking out new products and suppliers during her leisure travels.
"We expanded into home decor, imports and jewelry. We still do a lot with fragrance and incense," she said.
Incense is used daily in many of the Asian destinations she visits. She offers a variety, including one - aloeswood - that sells for $500 per gram.
"When I was in Bhutan, I happened across an incense manufacturer. Now I have someone in Bhutan who collects incense for me," she said. "In Asia, it's a different culture. Incense is burning everywhere. But the fragrance of Bhutanese incense is different from anything else I've experienced."
Most of her suppliers are not accustomed to exporting their goods internationally, but the negotiations were simple enough. In Turkey, she met two silversmiths who made their own jewelry.
"What if I bought 500?" she said. "Most of my suppliers are small. They're not exporting, as a rule. At first it was difficult because I didn't understand the process."
Huf said she learned what it took to import retail goods through U.S. Customs. Even in far corners of the world, people communicate by social media, which made it easy to stay in touch with the wholesalers.
"It's like an Easter Egg hunt. That's what makes it fun - finding some perfect item that people may not have seen before," she said.
The store appeals to all the senses, with world music playing on the speakers and spices in the air.
Customers such as George Kowalchick, of Williamstown, said he and his wife, Theresa, sometimes make a special trip to Cape May to shop in the store.
"It's all authentic. There's nothing kitschy about it," he said.
Next year, Huf plans to return to Bhutan, which she calls the most beautiful country she's seen.
"I really love to travel. It's not always easy. But if you approach it with no expectations, you are never disappointed," she said. "You can make the most out of even a bad situation."
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