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Boston South End shop purveys homemade delicacies

Kassmin Williams | 4/3/2014, 7:42 a.m.
Sofi Mercedes Madison opened Olives & Grace in 2012 as a way to introduce the Boston community to handcrafted products and give the people who make them a platform to sell their wares. (Zach Wolf photos)

When Sofi Mercedes Madison opened Olives & Grace in 2012, she intended to spread her love and respect for homemade products within the entire Boston community. As the store moves through its second year and to a new location, that goal remains the same.

“On a day-to-day basis, my goal is to introduce great products to our community that are oftentimes made by people who are in our community,” Madison said.

Olives & Grace, currently located at 81 Pembroke Street in Boston, features a variety of homemade products from makers across the country including caramels, chocolates, sauces, cocktail syrups, accessories and letterpress cards.

The new store location opens May 1 and is a slightly bigger and more visible location at 623 Tremont Street.

“It’s an insane location where we are [moving],” Madison said.

An increase in foot traffic is significant for Madison, who opted out of a solely online store and went for a retail location where customers can receive the full experience of purchasing a handmade product.

“I wanted to have an actual brick and mortar where the conversation, the back story and all those can be shared and where people would have the opportunity to hold the products, feel the material and feel the quality,” Madison said.

Madison became really interested in homemade-product makers and learning who made certain products and how they did it when she lived in Boulder, Conn., where she shopped at farmer’s markets.

“When you get to hear from the person who made something like the farmer who grew the product, and when you hear from them the process of growing that product, you can understand the hard work and love that goes into it,” Madison said.

Madison’s knack for introducing products to customers by providing background has led some of the makers sold in her store to credit her with the ability to sell products better than they can.

“It’s important for her to know the background, the story and why we’re passionate about it, so it’s sort of like her dream in doing this to make other people’s dreams come true in a way,” Apotheker’s Kitchen co-owner Shari Apotheker said. “I think her passion is to really give an outlet for people who are making to have a place to sell. Because she believes so much in the makers, she can absolutely sell a lot of product.”

Apotheker’s creates handcrafted, dairy-free chocolate from CropCircle Kitchen, a community in Jamaica Plain. Olives & Grace was one of the first stores to start selling the chocolates, Apotheker said.

Another important aspect for Madison, as the owner of a store highlighting handmade products, is ensuring her store is a live representation of the changes in the maker market, which means the store rotates inventory often to keep up with new products and changes being made to products already sold in the store.

“One of my favorite parts about this business is if I order with a chocolate company, for instance, at some point that next year when I place my second order, the packaging will be a little bit different or something would’ve been improved,” Madison said. “That is a great representation of the growth of their business, so that’s the fun of being able to watch products grow.”

When it comes to getting new product in the store, Madison’s preferred strategy is to take suggestions from customers to allow them to partake in the process, she said.

Madison compares the product selection process to planning a dinner party.

“You want to invite people who are going to be great around the table together and the same goes for the products on our shelves,” Madison said. “We try to have a good blend of products that can help compliment each other.”

For Jason McCrea of McCrea’s Candies, having his handcrafted caramels on shelves next to other handmade products at Olives & Grace means more to him than selling product to a large chain of stores.

“It showcases the stuff I make in a way I think it deserves,” McCrea said. “Being on a shelf with other products that are made with pride and crafted with integrity and dignity are the things that I stand for as a producer. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those other products makes me think I’m doing the right thing, and it’s nice to be validated in that way.”