When Amy Hughes, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, moved to Maplewood, she was burned out from her job as a journalist that required travel and late nights. Craving a lifestyle that kept her close to her kids and stoked her passion for DIY and vintage, Amy opened Salvage Style, a vintage furniture and decor shop in 2013. As her business grew, she eventually moved into a bigger space and a new concept—a woman-owned, co-op style marketplace that she named Maplewood Mercantile. The dreamy shop is reminiscent of the ultimate, swoon-worthy flea markets you’d find in Europe. It’s filled with one-of-a-kind furniture, vintage clothing, houseplants, small-batch apothecary, and eclectic accessories, and it also has interior design and photography services. We sat down with this Maplewood mom of two to talk about why Maplewood is the ideal spot for her store, how social media has been a lifesaver during COVID, and her favorite bakeries in town for the most delicious homemade pie and doughnuts.
Featured photo via @Laura Moss Photography
Tell us about your background and how you opened Maplewood Mercantile. Was it a conscious decision to have it be a collective of women-owned and operated businesses?
Before Maplewood Mercantile, I opened a tiny, 300-square-foot storefront that showcased vintage furniture called Salvage Style. I had just moved from NYC with my husband and daughter, and I was still freelancing as a journalist for home design magazines in Manhattan. After years spent on the road and late nights facing publishing deadlines, I was burned out. I wanted to live and work in the same community where I was raising my family and have more control of my time so that I could be there for my daughter and soon-to-be son. (I found out I was pregnant with Nicholas when I started to feel queasy while refinishing the terrazzo floors in my new shop.) I built the business slowly, supplementing my income with writing. Within a few years, I had outgrown my store and moved to a 2,800-square-foot lofty warehouse, where I created the Maplewood Mercantile co-op. I needed more storage and display space, but I also craved the company of like-minded, entrepreneurial women, so it was a conscious decision. We support and inspire each other. And we share the rent, which eases the financial pressure.
What made you choose Maplewood for your store’s location?
Maplewood is full of creative, free thinkers, and it’s also fiercely independent. We have very few chain stores, and the community ardently supports its local businesses. Most housing stock dates to the early 1900s, and residents tend to treasure these character-rich homes by restoring and updating them. It’s a great place to sell vintage furniture, art, and rugs that add warmth and personality to living spaces.
What’s a favorite item that you like to sell, and why?
I love to sell artwork. I buy what makes me happy, and it’s gratifying to pass that joy onto my customers. Mostly, I go for abstract and figural art. But I also love textiles, like antique, hand-knotted rugs because they add so much color, texture, and personality to a room. I like to lay oversized rugs underfoot or frame a rug fragment in a shadow box and hang it on the wall. For furniture, I favor Mid Century Modern and Hollywood Regency styles.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Covid-19 has been the biggest challenge I’ve ever had with my business. I was forced to close the co-op for three months. I got some financial relief, but it wasn’t enough to retain all my employees. Even now, we are operating with less staff and in a drastically different retail environment. There are fewer auctions and antique shows, where I used to buy furniture and art by the truckload. I now source from private collectors and other dealers, getting just one or two pieces at a time—it’s more time-consuming. But by limiting in-person shopping at Mercantile to only four days a week, from six pre-Covid, I’ve kept up, and sales haven’t faltered. The extra time away from the store also allows me to tag-team with my husband on virtual learning for our two kids at home.
What local businesses do you support?
Oh, that’s tough because we have so many good ones in town. I love the shops on Baker Street, including Meus for jewelry; A Paper Hat for art supplies and crafty birthday gifts; City Workshop, a menswear shop, where I get gifts for my husband; and Baker Street Market, where I get the best imported olive oil, chickpeas and other artisanal goodies. We have two incredible bakeries: The Able Baker, which I favor for coffee and pie; and Palmer’s Sweetery & Cafe, my go-to for Sunday doughnuts.
What are some of your favorite things to do in NJ with your family?
We’re an outdoorsy bunch. In the summer, we’ll shoot down to the beaches in Ocean Grove or Asbury Park. We love camping and rafting along the Delaware River and going on long walks with our dog in the South Mountain and Watchung Reservations. In the fall, we get cider and doughnuts at Hacklebarney Farm and hike in the state park nearby.
What’s next for your business?
Expanding my social media presence is critical. If it weren’t for connecting with my customers on Instagram, I would not have weathered the Covid shutdown. It’s where I post new inventory and share stories from and about the store. Typically the item I showcase sells within a couple of days, if not minutes. The customer shoots me a DM, I email an invoice, and then set up doorstep delivery or contactless pick-up during regular shop hours. Instagram is where design-centric people go for inspiration these days. For me, it was home magazines, or “shelter books,” as those of us in the business used to call them. But now, tastemakers on social media are gaining similar, if not greater, sway. The focus is on swoon-worthy images and snappy captions, so that’s where I’m investing the most energy.
Do you have any advice for other mompreneurs wanting to take the leap?
Sure—choose something you love to do because you’ve already got the passion and skill set. Also, take it slow because big risks are much easier if you ease into it. Trust yourself, and be kind when you make mistakes, knowing that it’s part of the process. And work harder than you ever thought possible. But you’ve got that part nailed, already—you’re a mom!