Teri Sasso Taniewski built a lucrative career as an executive for a national retail company. Now retired, Taniewski's newest venture is decidedly smaller in scale.
Last December, Taniewski bought Historic Smithville handmade craft boutique Earth-N-Lace Pottery, and earlier this year re-christened it the Merry Goldfinch, revamping its offerings in the process.
While the gift shop market is a crowded one, especially in Smithville, Taniewski said she is confident the quality of her offerings and the emphasis on customer satisfaction she learned during her years as an executive will help her find her niche.
"I think a lot of it is how we treat people," Taniewski said. "I'm just fanatical about excellence and integrity.
Taniewski kept the name and format of Earth-N-Lace pottery, which specialized in handmade pottery, mosaics, ornaments and other artisan pieces, for the first few months of her ownership.
On March 11, she re-opened as the Merry Goldfinch, which offers a broader selection that now includes premium handmade jewelry, pottery and assorted gifts.
Not only did Taniewski change her stock, but she made improvements to layout and design, which friend and worker Denise Lena said have significantly improved on the old shop.
"It was very dark," she said. "Now, it's bright and airy and cute."
The bulk of the Merry Goldfinch's selection is split between pottery and jewelry, which are supplied by both local and national producers. Among the most popular lines Taniewski stocks are Bay Pottery, a Shenandoah Valley-based company that handcrafts a variety of clay dishware, and the jewelry of designer Ann Koplik, some of which have appeared on "Dancing With the Stars."
Taniewski also stocks a wide variety of other items, such as artisan soaps, stuffed animals and neckties designed to keep wearers cool. Prices range from a few dollars into the hundreds, depending on the item.
While much of Taniewski's stock is handmade, she takes great care in selecting her items, making sure of their quality before putting them on her shelves.
"We wanted to make it look artsy, but not crafty," Taniewski said. "We don't want it to look like your grandmom made it."
While she lives in Williamstown, Taniewski has local roots, having grown up in Egg Harbor Township. As such, she was familiar with Smithville and jumped at the chance to join its retail community.
Taniewski's rebranding has posed some challenge to the business, she said, as the shop did not make the cutoff for the most recent village map. Still, she said, business has been good, and she is confident things are headed in the right direction.
"We've done very well, so I'm grateful for what we've had," Taniewski said. "I feel as we advertise, as people experience the store and they buy products, tell their friends and give gifts, and I get my website up and running, then I think it's only good things to come."
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