By Charles Erickson/For the Leader-Herald
JOHNSTOWN – Sonya Christiano has worked in retail for about 30 years, including stints at local outposts of some of the national chains. She is not dismissive of Big Retail, with their platoons of buyers and merchandisers and marketers, but said the way they tend to do things makes her appreciate what she has been able to accomplish in her single store.
Christiano is the owner and sole employee of Home Flavor, a home décor shop which opened in April 2021 at 18 North Market St.
“I’m responsible for every little detail,” she said inside Home Flavor late on a recent Saturday afternoon. “When someone comes in and they’re excited to see the store and they give you compliments, that’s really heartfelt for me because I pick out every single thing in the store.”
For the last 13 months, Christiano’s professional life has straddled both ends of the retail spectrum.
“I just decided I’d had enough of only working for somebody else,” she said. Her retail career included stops at Fashion Bug, Lane Bryant and T.J. Maxx, where she had been a department head. She still works part-time in the T.J. Maxx store on N. Comrie Ave.
NOT A CHAIN
Early last year, Christiano notified her boss that she would be scaling back her hours as she prepared to launch her store. She then began searching for a suitable location. A friend suggested that Christiano look at the empty storefront at 18 N. Market St. She drove past and was taken by the suitability of the space having a large sidewalk display window.
Home Flavor opened last year on April 24.
“It’s been several things,” Christiano said. “It’s been a tattoo parlor. It’s been a flower shop. It was, I believe, an office of some sort. Everybody asks, because of the sink.”
A counter juts from a wall in the middle of the store. It contains a sink and likely dates to when the place was used for selling flowers. Christiano uses the counter to display items having a garden theme. There are serving trays, watering cans and birdbaths. Christiano’s fiancé, Richard Negus, makes the birdbaths out of concrete poured into molds shaped like different types of leaves.
Christiano had ownership experience before opening Home Flavor. From 2010-14, she operated Stuffable Creations, a Johnstown shop where people built their own Teddy bears. The store catered to special events such as birthday parties. It was not a traditional retail center, and Christiano still yearned for a store in which she could sell items for home décor.
APPEALING TO MANY TASTES
Home Flavor features themed sections in the store. Some themes are permanent while the stocks of others are rotated on and off the floor throughout the year. With the themes, Christiano tries to carry items which appeal to a wide audience.
“It’s about who you are as a person and what you enjoy, and it reflects in your home,” Christiano said.
The Farmhouse Collection section is located on a wall just inside the entrance door. It is one of the permanent themed sections and it recently contained items including a kitchen canister set for flour and other consumables, candlestick holders, heavy bookends cast in the shape of fleurs-de-lis and a tin sign reading “Farm Fresh Free Range Organic Eggs.”
“We’ve got a lot of white-and-black, a lot of the galvanized stuff,” Christiano said. “Animals. The stuff with texture – the burlap.”
Just beyond this section, in a little nook, Christiano uses the space to host different themes. On the first Saturday in May, the theme was yellow and lemon – with all items connected to that color. A sign showed a plump bee alongside the words “It’s good to be the queen.” Previous themes in the nook have been red cars and red trucks.
Five tables have been placed in the rear of the store, alongside some shelves and a case. The Adirondack, Beach-Sea-Coastal and Shabby Chic sections are here, and Christiano said items from these themes have been some of her best sellers.
“This store is a unique place,” said Rhonda Brown of Johnstown. She described herself as a regular patron of the store. “You find different, quality things at reasonable prices.”
Prices on recent inventory ranged from $5.99, for some salt and pepper shakers, to $100, for a set of three shabby chic candlesticks.
“I’m pleased with the way things have been going and people’s response to them,” said Christiano, born and raised in Gloversville. “It’s been really fun.”
Hand-etched mugs, depictions of deer, moose and bears on figurines and other objects, and rustic signs were found on the Adirondack table.
The section with items relating to the beach and sea, most with a bluish color, included pillows, baskets, block signs, beach wraps and windchimes.
“The coastal stuff, especially at Christmas, was a big seller because people up here have relatives who live in the south,” Christiano said. “They sent it to them.”
Many of the items from the Shabby Chic section were sand-colored and featured a mix of wooden and metal objects. There were painted baskets and standing picture frames, along with small mannequin figurines.
“Sometimes, people will pin postcards or pictures to them, or put necklaces or jewelry on them,” Christiano said of the diminutive mannequins, which had the curves of such fixtures as used in the 19th century.
“I just love the way she displays the merchandise,” said Rita Hinkle, a customer from Saratoga Springs. “It just keeps you wanting. The new items – she keeps turning stiff over, quite often.”
BRICK AND MORTAR IMPORTANT
Christiano recently started using Facebook’s Store application to sell certain Home Flavor merchandise. She said she hopes online revenues will become a nice complement to the physical store but thinks in-person sales will always outsell those on Facebook because customers can hold the merchandise instead of only looking at photographs.
Female customers heavily outnumber the men, according to the owner, but she said some males are regulars and they like to buy items from the store’s selection of candles.
In a time of high gasoline prices and economic inflation, Christiano feels it is important for a store like hers to operate in her home community. She knows her audience, she said, and did not need to be sent merchandising and pricing advisories by a headquarters for field staff. This is Small Retail.
“I try to get different things, stuff you’re not going to find at all the other stores around,” Christiano said. “You come in here with $20 or $25 and you can get a nice gift for somebody.”
Photos, taken by Charles Erickson, for use in his story about Home Flavor in Johnstown:
Adirondack 1 and Adirondack 2
Sonya Christiano with some of the Adirondack-themed items she sells in her Johnstown store. Home Flavor opened in 2021. The leaf-shaped item she is holding is a birdbath and comes from the store’s garden section.
Farmhouse 1 and Farmhouse 2
Sonya Christiano, owner of Home Flavor in Johnstown, opened the home décor store in April 2021 after spending most of professional career working for retail chains. The store is located at 18 North Market St. “The hardest part was finding a place in town,” she said. “And then it just kind of took on its own natural course.”
Home Flavor 1
Home Flavor opened in April 2021 in a storefront at 18 North Market St. in Johnstown. Owner Sonya Christiano has worked in retail for about 30 years.
Shabby 1 and Shabby 2
Sonya Christiano, owner of Home Flavor, stands between the Shabby Chic and Beach-Sea-Coastal theme sections of her store in Johnstown, which opened 13 months ago. “Business has been great,” she said. “People have been really supportive and happy with the merchandise.”
Correction 12:17 p.m. 6/8/22: An earlier photo caption had the incorrect address for the store. Home Flavor is at 18 North Market St., Johnstown