GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The workday starts at 6 a.m. for Bob DeFillipo, hours before he opens his shop in Smithville.
In his two-car garage (which is devoid of cars but full of wood and paints), DeFillipo gets to work on creating and painting the wood crafts he has sold from the Crafting Cellar since 1999.
Among the dozens of quaint shops at Historic Smithville, his is particularly hard to miss — hundreds of hand-made, wooden lawn ornaments, wind chimes and home decor items adorn the grounds and the outside of the store.
But DeFillipo, 69, was not always in the craft-making business.
He spent almost a decade as the owner of three clothing stores and then nearly 25 years as a salesman and then general manager of several North Jersey car dealerships.
The auto industry at the time was lucrative but particularly stressful — DeFillipo recounted one time a boss told him it was too busy for his scheduled vacation just days before the cruise departed.
After 12-hour workdays, DeFillipo would relax by retreating to the cellar, where he crafted wood and where his shop would eventually get its name.
“This was how I would unwind,” he said.
He gradually turned his woodworking hobby into a small side business and sold products at craft fairs.
But after some health issues and he and his wife moved to Galloway Township, DeFillipo decided the next step in his career.
He noticed space available at Smithville and decided to start his craft business there.
When he first started out, DeFillipo bought the lumber himself, lugged it home, cut it, sanded it and painted it. Now, he uses a Pennsylvania woodcutter to shape his patterns.
The Galloway Township resident said he makes about half of the products he sells. The remainder of his stock comes from about 15 crafters on consignment.
DeFillipo made a big decision about a year ago to downsize space in his store, which is actually made up of several older buildings.
He cut his square footage about in half, a move that so far has proved beneficial.
“There’s been no impact on sales. My numbers are just as they were last year, which I think is good in this economy,” he said. “You don’t get rich in this business. This is a labor of love. It puts food on the table and you get satisfaction out of it.”
The outside of Crafting Cellar is a menagerie of wooden sign posts — some with sports, seasonal and holiday themes.
Varieties of pumpkins, ghosts and black cats are among the designs.
DeFillipo has noticed shoppers have become more prone to buy Halloween-themed items than in the past.
The National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, says this trend is nationwide.
The federation’s annual spending survey estimates the average person would spend $79.82 on decorations, candy and costumes — for a combined $8 billion.
DeFillipo said this trend seems to have carried over into other holidays as well. Thanksgiving-themed decorations — from wooden pumpkins to pilgrims — have become more popular.
Keeping on top of — and ahead of — the seasons is of particular importance.
He started making batches of Christmas wooden crafts in early October. On Dec. 26, he will begin displaying some Valentine’s Day crafts.
On a recent weekday, wearing a green sweatshirt and jeans and with dots of dry paint on his hands, DeFillipo joked about how his clothing style changed when he switched careers.
“You’d never know I was in the clothing business. I used to have 25 suits hanging in my closet,” he said. “Now I have jeans and a sweatshirt, and I think I have one suit in my closet.”
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