Our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, Linda Tribuna, had always enjoyed creating art when she was young. But a change of direction into a tried and true profession put the dreams of an artistic career on hold. Yet 12 years ago, she was finally ready to pursue her passion full-time when she opened a store showcasing her art and other local makers and artists. With a loyal following and knack for finding the unusual, Linda’s Creative Gifts in New Providence stocks Linda’s pencil drawings as well as an assortment of exceptional handmade items like jewelry, accessories, beauty care, and more from 40+ local and national artists. We caught up with this mom of three and grandma of two to discover how her business saved her from a traumatic brain injury, how local artists and her customers helped her through the pandemic, and the quaint NJ towns she escapes to when she wants to explore.
Tell us about your family and where you live. My husband, Joe, and I have been married for 33 years and live in Berkeley Heights because it’s close to Overlook hospital, where my husband is the Director of Family Practice. We have three children, Tori (29) works in the medical field, Mike (27) is a barber, and Chris (25) owns a balloon design studio. And we have two beautiful grandchildren from our daughter, Tori—Sophia (6 months) and Gabriella (18 months). Joe and I never expected to be in Berkeley Heights forever, but it’s an exceptional place with an old-town feel to it and a great sense of community. When the kids were younger and would go out, it always felt safe, partly because everyone knows each other and looks out for each other.
What is your career background? Art has always been my passion—I have drawn, painted, and done crafts my entire life. And though I applied to the School of Visual Arts High School and got in, it was a different time in the world and not meant to be. I was always doing something creative, but I worked in the city as an Executive Secretary for 13 years. That level of organization and training at the highest level has proved helpful in running my business.
What is the best thing about being an NJMOMpreneur? What about the most challenging thing? I’m living my dream—I love having the store. And it feels so good to support other artists and be a part of their dreams coming true, too. The most challenging thing for me is I’m wired to be an artist first before being a businesswoman, but I’ve worked hard to be comfortable handling it all. Though I’d love to be able to draw all day long, the accounting, billing, and paperwork have to get done. I do have wonderful employees so that I don’t have to be on the floor all day, and I can get everything accomplished when they’re at the shop.
Linda’s Creative Gifts carries a wide assortment of very special gift ideas that you won’t find anywhere else. Many of the items are also available at her online store too.
What makes Linda’s Creative Gifts unique? I represent more than 40 local and US artists, and over 80% of what I sell is handmade. My stock is constantly changing because my artists always bring in fresh, new work. It keeps my customers coming in often because they always want to check out what’s new.
How does your family support you in your business? Everyone in my family has been extremely supportive, but because my son Chris owns his own business and is an artist, he is my go-to for questions and gives me a lot of helpful advice. I also credit my business with supporting me in many ways. Nine years ago, I was in a car accident that took the life of my mom and put me in a coma for a week. While in the hospital, my business kept me going and helped me heal from a traumatic brain injury. When I was released from the hospital, my doctor attributed much of my progress to working on my business from my computer.
How did the pandemic affect Linda’s Creative Gifts, and what did you have to do to survive? I had to close the store for five months, but some of my artists were making masks, so I sat outside the store and handed out masks to people for the first two months of the pandemic. It felt good to help others this way, and it came back to me in spades. Instead of charging for the masks, I had a bucket outside where I asked for donations, and my customers were very generous, making it possible for the business to stay afloat. There was also enough to donate a portion to the New Providence Rescue Squad and the Silver Lining Foundation, both causes that are essential to our community.
What do you wish you had known before opening your store? Everyone says you need a business plan, but I moved forward without one. I know that if I had one, the learning curve would have been a lot easier on me, and if I’d talked to entrepreneurs in this field, I would have gotten a clearer picture of the day-to-day responsibilities.
The two artists in the family! Linda, with her son, Chris, at The Van Gogh Experience in NYC, early Fall 2021.
What are your favorite things to do or places to visit in NJ with your family? It’s our dream to have a home down the shore because we love it so much. When the kids were young, we vacationed there every year, and our two favorite towns are Lavallette and Point Pleasant. Another thing that Joe and I love to do is explore little towns a bit. Clinton and Chester are great places because they’re so quaint, and we love to check out the shops and find a cute place for lunch or dinner.
What are some of your favorite local shops in NJ? Natales Italian Restaurant has fantastic seafood. It looks like a pizzeria when you walk in, but there’s restaurant seating in the back area, and their food is inexpensive and phenomenal. For a burger and fries, The Stirling Hotel is perfect. And, in the summertime, I love their outdoor dining.
What is your best advice for an NJMOMpreneur just starting? You must love what you’re doing and not let anyone else determine that for you. Running a business is a lot of work—if you don’t love what you’re doing, it’s just not worth it. And, there are many resources available to help you succeed if you know what to look for. I highly recommend joining your local chamber of commerce because you deal with other local businesses that can help you and give you advice. And, the New Jersey Small Business Development Center is a great and free resource that offers counseling and continuing education to help your business succeed. You’ll also want to explore SCORE, another valuable resource for business advice.