By Alison Rooney
Stacey Wesselman half-disappeared for a couple of years. Holed up in her apartment for hours upon hours, weeks upon weeks, as her friends dubbed her the “mad scientist'” she sequestered herself away, formulating the skin and hair care products which now populate her new Main Street store, Cold Spring Apothecary. The store, which opened in mid-April, is filled with Wesselman’s small-batch, all-handmade lotions, shampoos, sprays, oils, soaps, salts, moisturizers, diffusers, candles and more. Wesselman originally concocted some of skincare products for herself; her background as a nurse and then a hairstylist providing the science and the stimulus. Friends urged her to sell what she had made. Lots of experimentation later, the line ‘Woodland Rose’ was introduced, and sold first at Adelaide hair salon in Brooklyn, where Wesselman was then living. The name stems from Woodland Valley, the Catskills town Wesselman grew up in, combined with her grandmother’s name.
Lots of weekend trips to Cold Spring prompted a move here by Wesselman and her husband two years ago; a move made with the intention of eventually opening up a retail establishment on Main Street. The mad scientist period followed, when Wesselman not only worked at expanding her product line, but at creating larger amounts of what she had already come up with, this time factoring in things like shelf life. Lots of research and the sending out of products for testing was involved. “Saving, saving, saving” and a business plan laid the foundation for the expansion, which began with the launch of the Cold Spring Apothecary website, this past January. Online sales “picked up much faster than we expected,” says Wesselman. “I’m not sure why, exactly, but maybe it was word of mouth from the people who bought the products at the salon.”
According to the website, these products are based upon “an initiative to create exceptional, naturally-derived hair and skin products that are as mindful of the well-being of the environment as they are of the people that use them “¦ The products contain no synthetic chemicals, dyes, or fragrances and there are absolutely no sulfates, parabens, harsh preservatives, DEAs, MEAs, TEAS or petrochemicals. Additionally, products are never tested on animals and contain no animal byproducts other than beeswax and honey.” Despite her passion for these products, Wesselman is determined “not to be preachy. I think it’s important that people should be aware that mass-produced products are loaded with chemicals, but they should not feel pressured to change everything. An average woman uses 20 to 30 products every day — if you change 2 or 3 of these over, that’s something you can benefit from.”
Thus far, the public is responding. Business has been very strong during the initial month, beyond what the business plan had projected, and Wesselman said that “already we have a lot of repeat clients, even by our fourth week, because the products work. We test them and reformulate often to keep up with ‘green’ trends. We use greener preservatives and I’m constantly researching this.” Everything is made right at the store, in a back
room, or “our little manufacturing facility,” as Wesselman dubs it. All of the products can be customized for allergies, skin sensitivities and plain old scent preferences, and a database keeps all custom information stored for future purchases. Other capabilities include “building a perfume just for them, or creating a scent for a friend.” An herbalist is soon to start consultations, and conducting educational workshops. Children’s workshops, in activities like soap-making, are also planned for summer. Free samples are available for most products so that informed purchases can be made on a return visit.
Wesselman has been thrilled by the reception she has found in Cold Spring. “Since opening our doors, we’ve gotten a great look at how receptive everyone is, even people new to naturals. Most of our business has been from locals. We’re getting people walking over from McGuires and young, holistic mothers — a wide range of people. We moved up here not really knowing anyone and now we feel so much support, on so many levels. Everyone seems excited about the new places coming in. Even the tourists seem to have a renewed excitement; many have been to Cold Spring before and they notice that we are new.” Having lived here for two years, Wesselman is not blinkered to the downturn in business during winter and says that during those months they’ll be relying much more on online sales (there has recently been a spike in international interest) and sales at the salon in Brooklyn.
As with any new business, there has been the requisite exhaustion and a few hiccups, but good kind of hiccups in this case: “I’ve been running out of bags and lotion bottles — I just hadn’t provided enough.” Almost everything in the very peaceful, inviting store has been crafted from reclaimed materials; only the lighting fixtures are new. The shelves are all from an old barn that collapsed on Wesselman’s grandfather’s property in the Catskills. Driftwood has been gathered from the river and from the Catskill reservoir and used as sculpture. Wesselman says she “takes pride in it all, and that gets lost in everyday, mass-produced items. From the beginning to the end, I’m watching. That includes the bottles, the labeling. There is no point at which I’m allowing a machine to do it. “
As of now, Cold Spring Apothecary (a name which suddenly sprang into Wesselman’s mind while walking down the slope of Main Street one day) is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for manufacturing, though this may change in the summer — check their website, www.coldspringapothecary.com for current hours and for detailed information on all of their products and philosophy. Lest you think manufacturing is a chore, Wesselman says otherwise, “It’s relaxing. You’re creating, you’re giving of yourself in things people will enjoy; it’s so satisfying.”
Cold Spring Apothecary is located at 49 Main St. and can be reached at 845-232-1272.
Photos by Chris Wesselman