A year and a half ago, when no one could have predicted that a coronavirus would soon be shutting down businesses and keeping people from traveling, a new regional tourism initiative called Rosendale Outings was introduced, the brainchild of Shaun Johnston, co-owner with Wilda Gallagher of Rosendale Waxworks. It was a website designed to tout the low-key historic charm and funky cultural vibe of that town’s Main Street via a collaborative approach to advertising online.
Now the Outings project has been relegated to the back burner. Ironically, it wasn’t the pandemic that put it there. Rather, Johnston and Gallagher found that they did much better business based on foot traffic in the town – even as shelter-in-place protocols came down from Albany. And for the most part, the customers haven’t been locals so much as weekenders.
“Online doesn’t work,” concludes Johnston, who has spent some years as a professional web designer following a long career doing graphic design for the book-publishing industry He carefully tracks the time spent on the website by visitors along with the number of hits. “We decided that we’re going to focus on people coming in the store.”
It sounds like a counterintuitive, even maverick approach for a time when everybody seems to be doing things virtually, including shopping, to the greatest extent possible. But, says Johnston, this year Rosendale Waxworks is “doing fairly well because of New York City visitors.” It’s doing as well as last year. In fact, the couple, who previously resided in Tillson, recently bit the bullet, bought the building that houses the shop, moved in upstairs, and even built a deck with a view of the Rondout Creek. “So, we’re really settled here.”
What was missing from their business model, going into its third year, they decided, was curation. So they hired a marketing consultant, Angela Speziale, and a stylist, Cecille Castillon-Weinstein, to help reorganize their space. Once they’re in the door visitors rarely leave without a scented candle or a fancy bar of soap in hand.
“Out of that came the idea to add prints to our roster of products,” Johnston explains. Says Speziale, “One of the changes in the store was to take the shelves and move them down, which made room for the prints.”
The art now on display in the front of the store – before you get to the “lab,” where Gallagher makes her soaps and candles by hand – is all by Johnston. An eclectic mix it is, reflecting his study of many different media over many years. “They’re not self-expressions,” he says. “They’re experiments in how one’s vision responds to various styles and mediums, like realism and abstraction.”
Oil stick is a current favorite medium of his, but there are also pastel still-lifes of fruits arrayed above displays of fruit-shaped candles, ink caricatures of celebrities like Ernest Hemingway and Princess Diana, a painting of a turtle’s head, and an abstract juxtaposing a pattern of rhododendron leaves above a snowbank. Among the most striking images in the shop are processed photographs of local scenes – notably a view the Rondout trestle from the underside that would make the perfect sophisticated Rosendale souvenir.
The art prints are uniformly priced, at $66 framed and $20 unmounted for the nine-and-a-half-by-16-inch size and $99 framed, and $30 unmounted for 13-by-19 inches. Johnston keeps them that affordable by mass-producing the wooden frames himself. “I mount the pictures for my own walls on float frames. There’s no need for glass,” he explains.
You can check out Johnston’s art offerings, along with the artisanal candles, soaps and other “enhancements to everyday living” on sale at Rosendale Waxworks, at 415 Main Street (Route 213) in downtown Rosendale, next door to Soy restaurant. The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.