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May 18, 2013

Country Junction enjoys scent of success

By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing writer
The Daily Star

---- — Walking into Country Junction gift shop, customers are greeted with the scents and scenes of country life. Handmade wooden signs with down-home sayings are hung along the walls, and gingham cloth covers the tables.

The many smells of the handmade, soy candles, crafted by Country Junction owners Lary and Kelly Gell, waft around the store.

“I love the homey feeling of this store,” said Hartwick student Julia Weinstein, who was shopping Tuesday with her friend, Hartwick student, Alyssa Nacco.

“Alyssa gave me a gift certificate to Country Junction for my birthday,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein said she often shopped at Country Junction when it was in the Southside Mall.

“She kept talking about the store,” Nacco said. “I knew I had to get her something from here.”

Country Junction moved to its new location at 4987 State Highway 23 in Oneonta last July.

The new store is larger, with several windows that add natural light to the retail displays.

“We can have our doors opened now and get some fresh air,” said Kelly Gell. “I love this space. The windows are wonderful. We are seeing more traffic, and we are working shorter hours.”

Country Junction began as an online gift store that specialized in country crafts. When the Gells were looking for a candle line, they decided to try to manufacture the candles themselves. After doing so, they found a tremendous market for the candles.

“My husband, Lary, he is the one who makes the candles,” Kelly said. “I run the retail end of things.”

The candles are 100 percent soy with cotton core wicks. All of the fragrances are synthetic or natural essential oils.

The Gells opened their first store in Colliersville. They closed that store to focus upon the online sales. About four years ago they made the foray back into a storefront when they opened Country Junction in Southside Mall. The store remained there for three years.

“Part of the reason we moved is because we wanted to have more-flexible hours,” Kelly Gell said. “We wanted to become a little more family-oriented.”

The Gells have two teenage children.

Kelly Gell said the retail sales have been good, especially on Mother’s Day.

“The jewelry counter was really busy for Mother’s Day,” Kelly Gell said. “We sell these charms and beads so people can make their own special bracelet for their mother.”

Country Junction sells the DaVinci and Bauble LuLu Beads lines that mix and match for charm bracelets.

Kelly Gell said she has felt the economic downturn but is optimistic about the future.

When the United States economy was less than stellar, the Gells concentrated their business enterprises in Canada.

“We got into the mall when the bottom fell out of the housing market,” Kelly Gell said. “There was a lot of panic and tears and stomping my feet, but what really saved us was our online sales. We ship all over the U.S. and Canada, but we focused our energy a little more on Canada and I think that really helped us weather the financial storm.”

Gell said she has seen business pick up a little lately, but people are still focused on buying usable gifts.

“People want something practical now, something that can be used for more than just a season,” Kelly Gell said. “They want something that can be used year-round. We had a lot of interest in our food items this past Christmas. People were grateful to find something to give that would be practical.”