In October 2015, the Boston General Store opened its first shop at 305 Harvard Street in the heart of Coolidge Corner in Brookline. The visionary behind the multi-faceted home goods store is April Gabriel, a 32 year old Texas native who hopes to change the way people think about buying items they use every day. “Years ago, people owned things that lasted a lifetime. This concept is lost on so many people nowadays, as they tend to buy less expensive, cheaper made products that fall apart in a short period of time. As a result, pieces are not a part of our social and familial fabrics. They are not passed down from generation to generation,” says April. The store’s shabby chic décor and wide selection of often vintage looking items intentionally serve to help customers conjure up old memories and transport them back to a simpler time when things were, in fact, built to last.
An Online Start
April Gabriel began collecting everyday items like key chains and bottle openers in her early adulthood that were a bit pricier, but were both aesthetically pleasing to her and long lasting. Without having the funds to open an actual brick and mortar store to showcase and sell her collectibles, she used a $12,000 gift from her grandmother to launch the Boston General Store website to share her finds with others and take her first official step into the world of retail. April built and oversaw the website, including photographing and managing its inventory (which began with a mere 10 products), all the while keeping her day job as an architect at the Boston Aquarium. “The online store started a bit slower than I would have liked. I had so much to learn and, at times, it felt like I was just taking baby steps,” says April, “However, when I started to set up a Boston General Store stand at SOWA and at various pop-up stores across the region, business started to accelerate. People could finally touch and smell the quality behind the merchandise and I knew I was really onto something.” And earlier this year, after wrapping up her most recent project at her “day” job, she decided it was time to turn her passion into a full-time retail career. Armed with some personal savings, a bit of financial support from her family, and a modest small business loan, April opened the first brick-and-mortar location for the Boston General Store in Brookline in late October of 2015.
Responsible Products for All
The store carries a cornucopia of items for the home and for personal use ranging from coffee makers to toothpaste, cleaning supplies to stationary, and scented candles to leather satchels. There are also a number of edible products including honey, syrup, and chocolate, as well as coffee and teas. All are made with the highest quality materials and ingredients and are hand selected by April from around the country and beyond. “I only promote brands that are environmentally responsible and truly believe in the art of what they are making. For example, we sell cleaning brushes from a Germany company that goes back three generations,” says April. Sourcing such goods can be easier said than done. After searching for nearly two years for an eco-friendly cleaning product line which worked and she felt good about, for example, April finally began carrying Common Good laundry detergent, dish soap, and linen water – all of which are plant based, biodegradable and certified cruelty free.
Early sales have been promising for the Boston General Store due, in part, to the holiday shopping season and its shared location with Kabloom flowers. Both businesses reside at 305 Harvard Street, but have their own street signage and interior shop space, which is connected by an open walkway. “There is a great synergy between us and Kabloom and I am glad we decided against installing permanent doors between the spaces. As it turns out, many people place their flower orders and then wander into our store to browse and buy. It has been beneficial to us as a new comer to the area to be physically joined to Kabloom, a Coolidge Corner veteran,” says April.
With one store now fully operational, April is cautiously optimistic about the future. She has already begun working with a local supplier to produce a Boston General Store line of candles and bath products for wholesale distribution, which she hopes, will be available to the public next year. In addition, she is thinking of opening other store locations in the area. “My perfect scenario would be to have a couple of more shops, one of which would include a coffee shop and serve as a real communal, gathering place. I am currently building a relationship with a local coffee company and would love to make such a location a reality as soon as possible,” says April.
Whatever the future brings, April Gabriel will continue to grow her business the same way she started it; carefully managing financial risk, while staying true to her personal values and old-school sensibilities. This self-taught, modern entrepreneur is realizing her dreams on her own terms one step at a time.
To learn more about April Gabriel, go to the Boston General Store. You’ll find her there 10-8 weekdays and Saturdays and 11-5 on Sundays. No rest for the weary for an independent entrepreneur.
~ Casey Hassenstein