Home Fashion + BeautyAccessories This Maplewood 1920’s Auto Garage is a Place for Community

This Maplewood 1920’s Auto Garage is a Place for Community

by Stephanie Spear
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In 2017, Amy Hughes opened Maplewood Mercantile at 145 Dunnell Road in Maplewood with the intention of having a space for women business owners to grow their ideas and for the community to gather and enjoy a beautiful space. Five years later, the renovated auto garage is now still a hub for beautiful designs and a gathering place for the community. The Montclair Girl spoke with Amy about the Merc, her journey, and running a business in Maplewood. Read on to learn all about the Maplewood Mercantile and Amy Hughes.

About Amy Hughes

Amy and her husband were living in NYC when they decided to make a major life change by moving to Maplewood. They were both journalists at the time, and Amy had decided to move into contract work. Amy was an editor for This Old House magazine. She had spent a lot of time researching and learning about DIY, antiques, and vintage furniture in the process of writing her book, This Old House: Salvage Style Projects. Amy started a side hustle reselling vintage furniture under the name Salvage Style. In 2013, she went full-time with Salvage Style and she leased a 300 square foot storefront on Baker Street. Over time as her business grew, she added storage units in different parts of town to accommodate her growing inventory.  

Amy Hughes, photo courtesy of Amy Hughes

By 2017, it was time to move. “Running to and from the storage unit was too much,” she said. “ It was physically challenging and logistically tough.” Amy heard that there was an interior designer in Maplewood who had a giant warehouse for all of the items that she used in client houses. The building’s primary use was storage, and while there was occasionally a barn sale type thing, it wasn’t used for retail. Amy had been keeping her eye on the place for a while, and it came on the market as a rental. It took five months to hammer out the lease and permitting details, and then it was move-in day. Upon moving in, Amy went from 300 square feet to 3,000. There were two other women-owned businesses who were the first tenants of the Merc. “It required major work to get in and create a retail business there,” Amy said.

Making the Merc

The building itself is special, but Amy says that its location also makes it tough to beat. “Our location couldn’t be better. We are neighbors to the Maplewood train station, right off Memorial Park. It is a very leafy location that is also great to bring in a lot of clients from NYC because they come by train.” She went on to say that it’s the same for teenage clientele. “Teenagers take the train because they don’t have a license. We’re a two minute walk from both the middle and high school.” Maybe the biggest perk is that the Merc has dedicated parking, always a hot commodity in downtown Maplewood.

The warehouse was a 1920’s era auto garage. It had concrete floors, 25 foot ceilings, exposed brick walls, and huge windows with tons of natural light. It was also in need of a lot of work to turn it into the welcoming retail space that Amy had in mind.

The giant wall of wood-framed windows were such a draw to Amy because they flood the showroom with natural light. The windows had been recently replaced by the landlord, who worked with Clawson Architects to create historically accurate and energy-efficient alternatives to the decrepit 1920s originals.

interior design maplewood mercantile

(Photo credits: @maplewoodmercantile)

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 “It was very raw,” she said. The first thing to do was to pressure wash the floor, ceiling, and walls. The fire captain of East Orange at the time had a side business doing pressure washing so he helped. They used over 40 gallons of white paint to repaint the interior. They left the floors as-is, with splattered paint on the concrete and one exposed brick wall still remaining. “All of the layers of paint created a cool, Jackson Pollock-like effect,” said Amy. 

Experiencing the Merc

The entrance to the Merc is a 12-foot-tall carriage door. Upon entering, visitors are greeted by a giant acrylic light fixture that looks like a moon. “We call it the Moonlamp,” Amy said. “It’s an architectural salvage piece from Austin, Texas. It’s over 5 feet long.” The space is airy and rugged, which is part of the charm. It has no insulation, which turned out to be a benefit during Covid. Because of the high ceilings, abundant windows, and tall doors, it has naturally great ventilation.

Amy said that during the pandemic, a lot of people would come by just to browse. “It’s a happy place for so many people – especially during the pandemic, because it is so open, it was really a refuge for our community. The Merc is a place to walk around, feel like you’re surrounded by art and culture, and have interesting conversations.”

 

(Photo credits: @maplewoodmercantile)

The different vendors in the Merc work together to create a perfectly mismatched aesthetic. Amy does all the merchandising and design of the store, and the different partners curate their spaces in a complementary way. 

Current Retailers at the Merc

Sarah Gee Interiors

Sarah Gee is an interior stylist with a background in industrial design. She has a BA from the Pratt Institute and uses her space at the Merc to meet with clients and uses other Merc vendors to source items for her clients. Sarah specializes in creating a more collective look for the spaces she designs. People coming to the Merc often love the vibe and want to recreate it at home.

 

(Photo credits: @sarahgeeinteriors)


Anna Herbst Photography

Anna Herbst is a photographer who has a studio in a section of the Merc. The 25-foot ceilings and incredible light make for an amazing backdrop for her work. She does product photography as well as lifestyle, fine art, and portraiture. Many of Anna’s clients are other women-owned businesses in the Maplewood area as well as the Merc vendors. Anna is a go-to photographer for many realtors and interior designers who want to share their work online.

 

(Photo credits: @annaherbstphoto)

The Collector

Emma O’Shea was one of the first employees at the Merc and now has her own space, called The Collector. Emma sells both new and vintage clothing. The new items are almost all small, NYC area designers with an emphasis on sustainability. Part of Emma’s vetting process for working with a designer is evaluating the behind-the-scenes aspects of the business, such as how workers are treated and the environmental impact of the manufacturing process.

 

(Photo credits: @shopthecollector)

Piper’s Talisman

Piper Jon is a jewelry designer who specializes in upcycling antique jewelry. One of her trademark styles is an antique watch chain made into a necklace. No two are the same. Piper also has antique keys, vintage coins, and other decorative items. Her eclectic work is popular with Maplewood residents as well as Hollywood residents, such as actress Melissa Gilbert who was photographed wearing her Piper’s Talisman in a photoshoot for People magazine.

 

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A post shared by Piper Jon (@piperstalisman)

(Photo credits: @piperstalisman)

Salvage Style

Salvage Style is Amy’s business and the original tenant. In addition to styling consultations, Amy sells vintage and reclaimed furniture. In particular, Mid-Century Modern furniture and antique rugs.

 

(Photo credits: @salvagestylenj)

Amy says that this community-gathering aspect is a big part of the Merc’s operation. “Pop-ups are a big part of our business, including community cultural events. We often feature live music and try to spotlight young musicians in town and give them an opportunity to reach a wider audience.” 

Amy continued, “Part of the reason why the Merc was created was to have a community cultural space. It’s a very different approach to retail.” 

After celebrating the Merc’s five-year anniversary in May 2022, Amy said she is proudest of the fact that the Merc has evolved to be a type of incubator for small, women-owned businesses. “A half-dozen businesses have gotten a start at the Merc and have now gone off to do bigger things on their own,” Amy said. 

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“It is really a gift to work with these women, and to see where they take it,” she added. “I take no credit because these are people who had excellent business plans and just grew because of their own hard work and incredible ideas.”


One success story in particular is Montclair’s deVINE Plantery. The business started during the pandemic as a web-based plant delivery business and then moved into the Merc as a way to expand without having to get its own space. Amy saw the business on Instagram and was impressed with the business model. Amy invited deVINE co-owners Kelly and Maya to do a popup at the Merc, and it was a big success. They were invited to become permanent tenants. deVINE Plantery spent one year at the Merc before moving into its dedicated space in Montclair, located at 28 South Fullerton Avenue.


(Photo credits: @devine.plantery)

Stay in the know with @themontclairgirl on Instagram and TikTok.

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