All this week I’m sharing my 2nd annual Shop Local holiday series on the blog. Hear from the best of local shop owners about what they’re loving this season and where they love to shop! Today we’re talking with Justin, the absolutely darling shop owner of Pioneer Goods Co in the South End. Check out the rest of the series here.
Welcome Justin! Tell me a little bit about yourself, your shop, and how you got started.
Justin: When I was a kid, I was really into lots of forms of art. I got a calligraphy set for my eighth birthday and I even took lessons on how to airbrush. I was also always rearranging my bedroom and styling it different ways to make it feel homey. My mom, as an interior designer, was always scouring yard sales and auctions and dragging me and my brothers along. I always fought it back then because I was into sports and more bro-centric stuff, so I purposely stifled my creativity for a long time. It wasn’t until much later that my mother discovered Annie Sloan’s Chalk Paint and I started helping her on a big project for a client that I found this marriage of practical creativity where you were creating something that people could admire but actually use that it began to seem like something I could pursue. Annie Sloan talked my mom into opening her first retail outlet and not long after, we both decided that I would come aboard and do something similar in Boston. Her shop is called Maison Decor and is very French and feminine in decor. My first shop on Harrison Ave was the second Maison Decor and began with the same French leaning aesthetic. The longer I was at the helm of that shop, the more I started pushing it my direction of rustic Americana and making it my own. We decided not to renew the lease on that space with the understanding that I would continue to search for a bigger space in the South End, and when I found the space at 764 Tremont, Pioneer Goods Co. was born.
You work to restore a lot of the beautiful pieces you sell in your shop, I’m sure it can be hard to say goodbye to some of them! Any advice for giving handmade gifts at the holidays?
Justin: I used to get very attached to pieces I sourced and/or refinished, but I’ve gotten much better at letting them go. It gives me the freedom to go out and find that next great piece. As for handmade gifts for the holidays, the options are plenty. As much as I’m partial to handmade or refinished home goods, I also love baked goods or homemade food items. Two years ago I made a variety of different pickled vegetables and last year I made apple butter and bacon jam. What I really encourage people to do is to not overlook the card portion of the gift you give. It’s so rare that we get to say what we really mean to those we love, and a beautiful handwritten card can be extremely memorable. My mom always said to us as kids, no matter how much money you have, you can always scrape together three bucks for a card. Years ago when I was managing restaurants, I chucked the idea of the $20 secret Santa and asked all of the servers to write something thoughtful or funny or both in either a handmade or store-bought card. We went out to a bar and sat around a big table and everyone read their cards aloud to each other.There were laughs and tears and lots of hugs–it was so awesome.
I always find it so much harder to buy gifts for the guys in my life, as a guy and a local shop owner — what would you recommend as great gifts for the men on our shopping list?
Justin: Guys can definitely be tough to buy for–I know I am. I don’t think you can go wrong buying a guy something he’ll actually use. Trust me, he’ll appreciate it. Does he like to cook? Why not get him a kick ass cast iron pan or some really nice chef’s knives. If he’s a cyclist, buy him some tools for working on his bike. I know it sounds cliché, but most guys I know love stuff that can be put to good use. If he’s a stylish guy and into clothes, chances are he’s already bought himself the shoes he wanted or a jacket he was eyeing. Maybe that’s a guy who would appreciate cedar shoe trees or really nice wooden hangers for his closet. You can’t go wrong with practical.
Justin: In my shop I always lean toward a one-of-a-kind antique as a gift. I had a bust of Indian chief that was so cool that I guarantee you couldn’t find anywhere else. Something like that adds instant character and intrigue and often has a really cool story behind that you just cant get from a mass-produced good.
One of my favorite things about shopping local is the way that the community supports each other — what are your favorite places to shop in Boston?
Justin: I love the retail scene in the South End. I always shop at Olives & Grace, Sault New England, and Niche Urban Garden supply. Those shops are so awesome. My wife Madison recently introduced me to Follain, and I swear by their activated charcoal soap. That said, I probably pour most of my money into Render Coffee. I buy their pour over coffee nearly every day and pick up a bag of Counter Culture coffee beans once a week.
What would you tell someone that’s thinking about shopping local this year? Any words of wisdom about why you think it’s important?
Justin: I implore everyone to shop local, but of course I’ve got a vested interest. The best thing you can do is talk to the shop owner about what they are digging in their shop. Nobody will have as much passion about what they carry and they will always steer you in the right direction. It’s an experience you will never achieve going to the mall.
All photos credited to local Boston photographer: Bring to Light Photography.