Rebranding helps Houlton gift shop owner keep the doors open

1 month ago

HOULTON, Maine – A Houlton gift shop owner thought she might have to close her doors permanently after the eclipse, but a rebranding and tons of community support are keeping her doors open.

Monica Crane, owner of Tulgey Wood Emporium, located on Court Street just off Market Square, said that when she first opened nearly four years ago, she was not focused.

“It was nearly my downfall. I was so eager to have my own little shop that I didn’t have a focus set in place and it was just random,” she said. ”I wasn’t really sure where I was going with it. I had so many different things it was hard to explain the shop to people.” 

Things had gotten so bad that she lost interest in her shop and basically stopped ordering merchandise. She admits it was her own fault things were going poorly, she said. 

“I wasn’t happy anymore and I thought for sure I was going to have to close the doors permanently,” she said. 

But in a moment of clarity earlier this year, Crane knew she had to get back to the reason she had always wanted her own shop. 

“When I was little I loved movies that showed these cute little shops and always thought it looked so magical and so warm and inviting and thought when I grow up I want that…And here I am,” she said.  

Crane’s decision to stay open comes at a time when several downtown businesses decided to pack up their brick and mortar locations following the eclipse rush of thousands of visitors. For some it was no longer financially feasible, for others, family obligations and rental space locations led them to opt for an online presence instead. 

Initially, Crane thought her customers would be young people but that proved difficult and she said her merchandise was all over the place from vintage, to gothic to whimsical.

She recently changed her decor to create the feeling of a cottage in a magical forest. She took a tree that had come down in her yard two years ago and used the branches as the beginning of the in-store forest. Then she crocheted long dark green leafy tendrils to hang from the ceiling off the branches, creating a dense forest feel. Small white lights sparkle from between the trees like the fairies in the books she now sells.

HOULTON, Maine — April 19, 2024 — The Tulgey Wood Emporium, a Houlton gift shop, offers patrons fairy tales, cards and magical gifts. (Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli | Houlton Pioneer Times)

Crane eliminated the gothic items and much of the clothing she had in the shop, although she is bringing back T-shirts because they were popular, she said.

Tulgey Wood Emporium now has a book and book-related theme based on fairy tales, folklore and classics. 

Crane has always loved to read since she was very young and her favorite book is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which she continues to read annually, she said. 

“The name of my store is inspired by my favorite author Lewis Carroll and his poem Jabberwocky.” she added.

Once Crane changed her focus, the community came out to support her.

“Oh my gosh, the support from the community has been incredible. So many of the local businesses just swooped in, picked me up off the ground, dusted me off and they are my cheerleaders,” she said.

Patrons, so happy to see the changes, have brought her gifts, young children have drawn pictures, all in an effort to help her keep her shop open, she said.

“That resparked that imagination and drive I had for this business,” she said. “I am so excited now. I am so grateful I was able to make this change before it was too late. And business has really picked up and is getting better and better.”

On Friday morning several shoppers were exploring the shop for the first time and delighted with their finds, like Dorothy Fitzpatrick of Houlton.

“I just heard about it,” she said. 

In addition to her books and book themed items, Crane also has jewelry, greeting cards, art, items she has crocheted and small wood items her husband created. 

As her transition continues, she has event ideas in store, but hasn’t announced them yet. 

“I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve. It will involve the community a lot more and also other businesses,” she said.  

The lesson Crane learned is to stay true to yourself and do what you are passionate about because If you try to please too many you will lose your focus, she said. 

“Do what you want to do and people will see that and feel that energy and you will do well, ” Crane said. “And if you’re not willing to change with the times I just don’t see how you will succeed.”