On the Mantle Boutique to bring artisan goods with social impact to downtown Dowagiac

Published 10:00 am Friday, November 12, 2021

DOWAGIAC — With an infant daughter needing regular medical attention, losing her boutique store in Cassopolis after a storm was the last thing Caryn Webster needed.

“We’ve been in and out of the hospital for the last year, and when things finally got stable, we lost everything,” she said. “$10,000-plus thrown in the dumpster.”

But she persevered, and with a little help from one Dowagiac business owner, Webster is hoping she has finally found a permanent home for both her boutique and her family.

On the Mantle Boutique – which features art, artisan clothing, jewelry and other handmade crafts – is set to host its grand opening Saturday during the downtown’s Christmas Open House Weekend. The store will share the space occupied by Beeswax Coffee Roasters, 104 E. Division St.

While continuing her boutique as a pop-up store at farmers markets in the area, Webster met Beeswax owner Kristy Kambanis, who offered to share her space, which had been used mostly as a roastery with occasional storefront hours.

At first, Webster said she was apprehensive about Dowagiac, but after visiting its farmers market and a few downtown events, decided to give it a try.

“It’s really busy here, which blows my mind,” said Webster, of the Dowagiac downtown. “Everyone is so friendly. I’m amazed. Everyone who walks by keeps asking when we are opening.”

Social Impact

Webster describes her store as a collection of artisan goods from the local area – including Indiana – as well as abroad.

“Everything is primarily handmade, homemade and comes with a lot of connection to social impact,” Webster said. “A lot of our fashion comes from women who are in recovery. … They make it and then they get fair trade for that. We try to make everything be U.S.A.-made and environmentally friendly, so a lot of our clothing is bamboo.”

A portion of proceeds from the company’s Pete and Lucy retail clothing line donates to one charity per month. In August, the collective donated items to teachers from a list of items they needed for classrooms.

Webster, who has a master’s in psychology from The University of Chicago, has also worked as a behavioral and rehabilitation therapist. She said she gravitates toward artists who are also interested in helping people.

Lori Harrington, a therapist who works with troubled youth to get them back on their feet, has art available in the store. Another artist who sells jewelry in the store works with women in recovery from sex trafficking.

The rotation of artists and products will continue to change constantly, which Webster said is to keep the artists enjoying their passion.

“They don’t want to make 100 of one thing, so that’s why everything is unique,” Webster said. “They just kind of bring things in.”

Future plans

The centerpiece of the store is its mantle piece, made from wood salvaged from an old cabin in Warsaw, Indiana, near where Webster grew up. The piece, provided by her high school art teacher serves as Webster’s inspiration, as well as the decorative centerpiece of the store.

“My first house had a mantel, and that’s what I decorated,” Webster said. “So that’s where we got our name, and we change it for the seasons.”

In addition to selling items, Webster also plans on engaging the community with different craft classes, the first of which will be making a sleigh for Christmas. Brian Glover, a retired contractor and woodworker who has items at the store, will come and show patrons how to whitewash wood, according to Webster, who plans to show people how to hang a wreath and decorative porch lights.

The event will be in December, but a date is not yet set.

During the downtown open house on Saturday, Webster said both she and Kambanis will be on hand for the grand opening of On the Mantle Boutique, as well as to serve coffee from Beeswax Coffee Roasters.

Webster said the opening of her store has lit a fire under Kambanis, and the two are brewing up more ideas for the space, including facade renovations and a mixed-use area.

“We’re going to have games in here, books in here – think of it as a relaxation lounge,” said Webster, who also makes and sells a variety of goat milk soaps. “So, you can come to get your coffee, you can come and shop. You can get one of your DIY kits. You can come over here if you need help, you can work on it, all of that. We’ll have all the art supplies you need.”

While Webster and her family are still looking for a house in the Dowagiac area, she hopes the community will invite them into their proverbial home.

“Our hope is that Dowagiac welcomes us with open arms,” she said. “I’m hoping to stay, I really am. I don’t want to move everything again.”

To browse a selection of boutique products, visit onthemantleboutique.com. To purchase coffee beans and local honey from Beeswax Coffee Roasters, visit beeswaxcoffee.com.