Thinking inside the box

BUCKSPORT — Like its name, The Local Variety carries a little bit of everything.

For the coffee crowd, the café/retail shop serves Deer Isle-based 44 North’s Sumatra and other Blonde Pearl and other coffees. For the lunch crowd, a Cheddar BLT, Tuna Melt and Grown Up Grilled Cheese are among the wraps and sandwiches made from scratch. Raspberry cobbler, whoopie pies, peanut butter cookies and other sweets also are available.

But what distinguishes The Local Variety from other variety stores is its vivacious and fun-loving proprietor, Jessica Carter, who has created a community hub at 79 Main St.

Just last week, the Deer Isle-Stonington High School graduate staged a “Swap Don’t Shop” women’s clothing swap, where women brought in and exchanged their “maybe someday” clothes, shoes bags and jewelry. Leftovers went to a local thrift shop.

This Saturday, May 4, Jessica is hosting a “Spring Rock Painting Party” at 12:30 p.m. while a “Kids’ Spring Clothing Swap” is set for May 18.

In addition, the Stonington native’s imaginative endeavors are not confined by The Local Variety’s square inches. She is carving another niche for herself in the online subscription box market.

At the Local Variety, Jessica Carter (above) shows the store’s airy upstairs space where customers are welcome to eat their sandwiches and drink their coffee. The room is also used for workshops and be rented for events. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY JENNIFER OSBORN

Birchbox and Blue Apron are among the best known vendors nationwide of subscription boxes containing a curated, themed selection of merchandise delivered to you monthly or quarterly.

Jessica’s aptly named “The Local Delivery: Fun and Salty Treasures Made by Women” was featured by Cratejoy in its March round-up of “green” boxes. Cratejoy is the leading online subscription box marketplace.

“That’s been huge,” the mother of two related. “It’s quadrupled our subscriptions.”

On Cratejoy, The Local Delivery boxes are described as being “full of fun, women-made goodies, and is a little sassy & salty [It wouldn’t be us if it wasn’t].”

“Included will be 4 to 6 full-size products curated from our amazing store such as hand crafted bath and beauty products, green living items, stationery, artisan-crafted treats, samples, coupons and more. All packaged in a unique collectible cotton reusable gift bag with a surprise hand-stamped print.”

The April box, called “Cute and Crunchy Green Living,” included Bee’s Wax Wraps — reusable wraps for food, a travel cutlery set from Conscious Cutlery, an orange shower bomb from Rinse. The items were packaged in a tote emblazoned with a graphic of flowers and strawberries that said “All my friends eat sunshine,” made by Moonlight Makers in Asheville, N.C.

Jessica shapes each month’s box around a theme — last October was, of course, Witchy Woman. January’s theme was “You Are Enough,” — encouragement for the over-resolvers among us.

Some of the boxes’ contents are pulled directly from the shop shelves but as the subscriber list grows, Jessica has to plan farther ahead and order more merchandise. The items are always fun. Consider the award ribbons. One states “I put on a bra today.”

“You can’t find that just anywhere,” she quipped.

Oh, and she does a videotaped “Happy Dance” as a thank-you for her subscription box customers.

It was a Westbrook customer Lindsey Gray’s comment that planted the seed for The Local Delivery boxes launched last August.

“Whenever I placed an order from The Local Variety, I was so impressed with the quality of the items and the way that she [Carter] packaged them,” Gray said. “She always included fun touches, like free chocolates or handwritten notes, and it just made my whole day to find one of her delightful packages in my mailbox.

“I thought that the only thing that could make it better would be for her to curate and send a box to my door each month, so I sent her a message and asked if she might consider offering a subscription box — the rest is history.”

Gray has subscribed to book and beauty subscription boxes.

“My one issue with subscription boxes is that a lot of them seem to be offered by large companies [Target, Walmart, Sephora, etcetera],” said Gray. “I firmly believe in voting with my dollar and keeping my purchases as local as possible.”

“The Local Delivery offers something that I think the subscription box industry is lacking: a small-business focus that features products from female entrepreneurs across the country,” she continued. “It’s a monthly purchase that I enjoy and can feel good about, so it’s a total win-win.”

Gray stops at The Local Variety whenever she visits her best friend in Bucksport.

“I think the appeal of subscription boxes is that they bring a little bit of magic to a sometimes routine and hectic adult life,” she said.

“Picture a typical work day: you eat lunch at your desk while on a conference call, are overwhelmed with emails, sit in meetings that seem to last forever, rush home to pay bills and make dinner and then start the whole process over again, but wait,” said Gray. “You find a surprise in your mailbox, and it’s a package put together just for you. You just can’t help but smile and do a little happy dance.”

Jessica sees a market for local and handmade. “I love being able to purchase things from stay-at-home moms,” she added.

“The internet provides a huge marketplace for people who are creative. I feel like there’s a lot more appreciation for that — a wish to get back to shopping locally. It might not be local to you but it’s local somewhere.”

Speaking of locals, they love the shop and café too.

Carter and her staff of five part-time employees greet most everyone by name.

“I love this place,” said Jeff Snowman of Orland, who stopped in recently for an oatmeal cookie while on a morning walk. “They’re very thoughtful.”

Frances Cole of Bucksport wandered in for a snack with her mother, Maggie Wentworth and new baby sister Edie.

“Frances is as old as the shop, about 3,” said Jessica, recalling the little girl’s first visits as a newborn.

Jessica bought The Local Variety in June of 2016. She holds a degree in social work from University of Maine in Orono.

“I originally thought I wanted to be a high school teacher,” she said. “I actually ended up working in women’s health for five or six years doing education and family planning.”

Before opening the store, Jessica was a top seller for Athena’s Home Novelties for 11 years.

“I thought I could do both,” she said, but it was too much to be out late at house parties and up early for the store.

After taking over the store, Jessica began bringing in and featuring goods made by area women and families. Those items now fill the subscription boxes.

At The Local Variety, the upstairs functions as a gathering room and a children’s play room. The space can be rented for meetings and workshops.

Jessica’s friend, Kacey Hutchins, a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic rehabilitation, has held many workshops in the space.

When it’s not being rented, customers are invited to eat their sandwiches and drink coffee upstairs in the airy room with a view of Penobscot Bay.

“It’s sort of evolved into a hybrid sort of coffee shop, cafe, retail space and community space,” she said. “I’m still on a search for the perfect word to describe it.”

Community is important to Jessica and her and husband Caleb Carter, who hails originally from Sedgwick. Both graduated from Deer Isle-Stonington High. After they got married, the couple settled in Bucksport, as it was the halfway mark between their jobs.

“Other than Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s,” she noted, “there’s no place really for people to come together.”

“This is such a sweet little spot,” she said, gazing across Main Street, where Penobscot Bay can be seen between two buildings. “We just love this little town.”

The Local Variety is open March through December. Jessica takes a break in January and February. Spring hours are Tuesday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lunch — self serve — is available 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more info, call 469-0865 and visit thelocalvariety.com.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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