“Polished, whimsical, sophisticated and full of items that make me swoon” is how a Marmalade customer described the much-loved Belmont, Mass., paper and gift boutique. These vivid words paint a vibrant description of this chic shopping destination. Many of the funky, hip treasures in Marmalade’s mix exude a handmade feel, while the shop’s friendly staff also offers a personal touch.
Marmalade’s owner Leigh Standley DiBernardo is quite the busy entrepreneur. Beyond Marmalade, she is the owner/creative director of Curly Girl Design, which has established a large fan base in the past decade. Standley DiBernardo segued into retail several years ago. “Being around the retail industry for many years, it felt like a natural progression. Also, I was trying to fill a need. I was having a hard time finding the perfect retail fit for my whole product line and wanted to bring something new and creative to the area.”
Opened in December 2007, Marmalade was originally above the Curly Girl warehouse. In April 2011, Marmalade relocated to Belmont’s bustling town center, which offered a larger space and more foot traffic. At just under 1,200 square feet, the inviting shop is neighbored by other quirky shops and restaurants.
With its mysterious name, one can’t help but wonder what’s behind it. “I’m a Francophile, and I love the French attention to fancy details. Marmalade can, at once, be a utilitarian condiment on every table and a gorgeous indulgence. It can be both fancy and useful, and I like that balance. As a graphic designer, Marmalade is a perfect word, typographically — all those M’s and A’s.”
Bold splashes of color bring a bohemian vibe to the shop. The walls are washed a rich reddish-orange hue, the ceiling stained an aqua blue color. Oversized white Moroccan lanterns dangle artistically. Vintage and distressed display furniture enhances the ambiance.
With a plethora of product within a small space, orderly arrangements are essential. Photo couresy Lizzy Flanagan
Rich with detail, Marmalade is certainly a destination where design lovers can indulge. “We have a lot of stuff in a small space, so we believe that shoppers need to do a few laps to really see everything,” Standley DiBernardo described.
Indeed, within Marmalade, one finds a wide range of lifestyle product — from stationery to colorful journals, crafty office supplies to chic scarves, plus handbags, wallets and jewelry. Offerings encompass scented candles, patterned throws and pillows, as well as small vintage furniture and baskets. Gifts include wall art, rustic vases and tabletop and even goofy stuffed animals. The personal care and gourmet categories aren’t overlooked either, with plenty of lotions, fragrances, soaps and lip balms in stock as well as honey, pesto, salts and cookbooks.
Although the economy has been on the downswing since Marmalade’s debut, business has still flourished. Standley DiBernardo reported that foot traffic and sales grew dramatically since Marmalade’s relocation. “We still see new people every day. We’re becoming a destination store and we’re bringing people from other towns and the city, out to our little community.”
Garnering press and other types of exposure has certainly boosted business as well. Marmalade was recently awarded “Best of the New” by The Boston Globe Magazine, and the Curly Girl brand also maximizes exposure.
This stylish retail shop is such a favorite destination for many shoppers, in fact, that it was the setting of a recent marriage proposal. “The boyfriend of one of our best customers planned an engagement at Marmalade,” Standley DiBernardo recalled. “He ordered custom signs from our vendor, Spicher and Company. They had ‘Hey Alison,’ ‘I Love You,’ and ‘Marry Me?” printed on them. Alison was brought in under the guise of getting a gift for a friend and as she walked around she saw the signs — it was the cutest!”
To memorialize the occasion, Standley DiBernardo arranged for a photographer to capture the scene. As champagne chilled, wishes certainly did come true. The happy couple is planning a summer wedding and will appropriately gift its guests with tiny jars of marmalade.
What’s Marmalade’s recipe for success?
“Almost everything we do is different,” Standley DiBernardo observed. “We are a unique place, but what sets us apart is a high level of service and being really connected to our community. We make a real effort to carry unique, thoughtful things and to create a ‘real’ environment. Like the proposal, everything Marmalade does tells a story, and that draws people in.”
Marmalade even puts its own flair on gift wrapping. Small gifts are stowed in Chinese take-out boxes and all gifts are adorned with lots of ribbon. “We do a lot of custom ordering and since we know our customers, we find things especially for them. We love for people to receive items that we’ve boxed up just for them.”
Standley DiBernardo also takes initiative in spreading the word and has placed Marmalade on the map via online marketing. “I started a blog about a year and a half ago, which now has about 10,000 weekly visitors from all over the world. We’re seeing folks add a stop at Marmalade to their New England travel plans. That is really exciting.”
Special offerings also make Marmalade a bit more enticing. Last year, the shop began offering a well-embraced menu of creative classes, ideal for girly gatherings. Previous events included a yarn flower-making class and a pumpkin decorating session. Twice-yearly sidewalk sales and a festive December open house lure more shoppers, and Marmalade always joins in Belmont’s ‘Midnight Madness’ event, held in December. “We are open until midnight and offer progressive discounts throughout the night. Last year, I bought the whole staff matching flannel plaid pajamas; during the event we were so packed that I was glad that everyone who worked there was wearing something recognizable,” Standley DiBernardo recalled.
Standley DiBernardo certainly has her hands full with the shop and Curly Girl, and will keep Marmalade as a special one-venue indulgence to be truly savored. “Part of the reason I opened a shop was to build some community around my little company. You can work hard doing cool stuff on the wholesale side, but it’s all kind of underground,” Standley DiBernardo finished. “We wanted to meet people, talk to them and introduce them to what we’re doing. If we get too big, we’ll lose some of that.”
Quick Q&A: Leigh Standley DiBernardo
Q. There are some things that are timeless—a little black dress or the perfect martini come to mind. What epitomizes “timeless” for you when it comes to stationery?
A. I’m always drawn to good solid humor. It never gets old when done well. I also think the boxed thank-you note is a forever item.
Q. With new stationery designers cropping up daily, how do you recognize the talented entrepreneurs among the hobbyists?
A. I’m not sure if there is always a difference. In this industry you can be a hobbyist until you aren’t anymore. It’s very forgiving that way. I look for originality and a cohesive look. If someone is coming into the show because they love letterpress and want to make all the beautiful things they’ve seen, I walk right by. If you have a unique look or voice, you’ll get my attention. I believe that translates into sales.
Q. What are your three top-selling vendors?
A. In stationery, Curly Girl Design, Notes & Queries and Calypso Cards.
Q. What have you learned about running a stationery business in the last year that’s surprised you?
A. Some people still don’t know that square envelopes require extra postage.
Q. If you were a stationery product, what would you be?
A. A Curly Girl pencil.
Q. What is the best buy under $50?
A. Eigen Arts vases are beautiful, colorful and really reasonably priced. A medium-sized vase retails for $45.
Q. What is the best splurge item?
A. It’s a splurge at $18. Once you try Savannah Bee Company’s Raw Honeycomb you’ll take it to every party you attend! It’s a staff fave!
— By Regina Molaro, special to Stationery Trends