Women in the Moon
It’s a sunny Friday, just hours after the Royal Wedding. I arrive at the front stoop of an adorable brick building which is part of a larger complex known as the Way House. It’s located at 163 South Main Street, on the quiet end of a line of shops and restaurants in downtown Waynesville.
After noting the beautiful design of the Women in the Moon sign hanging from the front of the building, I walk in to a delightful space and am greeted by an adorable Bichon Frise named Henry, and his owner, Jody Bender, and partner (and Mom) Lynn Hughes. A glass counter is filled with teenage-girl-friendly trinkets, beautiful jewelry, and other odds and ends. Behind Bender is an old oil painting, which I find out later is a portrait of Jody’s great aunt.
After we exchange greetings, Jody explains to me some of the history of the brick giant, which is on the national historic register. “Dr. Way had this built in 1888, and part of the space in our shop was his old treatment and operating room.” She points above to a series of old open-faced cabinets in which aged glass medicine bottles are still housed; an homage to the former use of the room. “The body and bath products are displayed in this space, which we call the ‘Apothecary Room’,” adds Hughes, with a twinkle in her eye.
Above the cabinets is a skylight that is original to the structure; a bright source of light to the room. Indeed, the entire store, which consists of a few small, cozy rooms and a hallway, is filled with a light airiness and a sense of peace, not to mention some wonderful scents provided by the soaps and lotions scattered through the rooms. Oh, and one of the scents happens to be a best-seller, a product called “Poo-Pourri.” But more about that in a moment.
The mother-daughter duo opened Women in the Moon in 2008, during the height of the recession. “There were no jobs anywhere,” said Hughes, “I was ready to start working for myself instead of working for someone else. We both felt like we had enough business experience to make a project like this work. It just felt right.”
They found the space for their business by chance. “I remember exactly how we found this spot,” says Hughes, “Jody and I were in the car, shortly after we decided we wanted to open a shop together, and ended up right across the street at a stop sign, staring at this building with a ‘For Rent’ sign in the window. We went to the landlord of the building and inquired. I just knew it was the right place for us.”
Hughes has lived all over the country. She was born in Westchester County, New York, and as an adult lived in Pennsylvania where she owned a record store with her first husband. That was followed by southern California, where she thought she’d live for just one year. But that turned into a twenty-year stay. (In fact, an autographed photo of Bruce Willis, made out to Lynn, hangs in the front entryway.
“I’ve always been a maker of things,” says Hughes, “crafting different things, making art; I’ve been interested in art, no matter what my job was (she worked for many years as a claims adjuster). It sounds dramatic, but I was really just starving when I was working in the corporate world.”
“It just got to a point where I wasn’t enjoying living in southern California anymore, though being in the Los Angeles area all those years gave me lots of wonderful things like exposure to nature’s diversity and, of course, culture.”
Hughes started realizing she really needed to do what she’d always wanted to do—use her creativity. So, about eight years ago, she abandoned the southern California lifestyle for the small town atmosphere and sense of community that Western North Carolina provides . “I wanted to live a more natural life, to be in the mountains,” she says.
Western North Carolina seemed like the right place for her to do that. After she arrived in the area, she attended a women’s retreat, which she says helped open her up to many different ideas and new energy, and it also inspired her to begin creating what she called “earth spirits,” dolls made from wood, clay, and stone, dressed in fabric and natural fibers.
She created the dolls for five years, selling them at women’s retreats, galleries, and the Southeastern Women’s Herbal Conference; one of her Earth Spirit Dolls was chosen to be on the altar of Northeastern Women’s Herbal Conference. During this time she was also part of Women In Vision, an all-woman art show in Waynesville, where she was the only sculptor.
Jody joined Hughes in North Carolina in 2008. As a child she was very connected to the natural world, riding horses, hiking, and just being outside. She has found Western North Carolina offers all of those things she loved in her youth.
In fact, at Women in the Moon, nature can be hung on your wall or worn around your neck. There are striking original pieces by Lee Miller, a South Carolina artist who preserves butterflies in a shiny resin and makes them available to enjoy forever. (He only uses butterflies which are already deceased; he doesn’t harm any living creatures.)
Nature isn’t the only force at work in this gorgeous little boutique, though. Both mother and daughter lean toward the artistic themselves, and their flair for design shows on every display in their shop.
Skillful arrangements of jewelry, hand-painted scarves, wall art, hand-painted French-inspired soap dishes, and French hard-milled soaps can be found throughout the store. The ladies have an eye for the original, and Bender says they often have items well before anyone else. “We started selling art prints from PaPaYa in 2008, before we saw it anywhere else. The next year we saw one of the pieces on TV, on the show The Big Bang Theory.”
Adds Hughes, “I really wanted to have a shop in Waynesville that had the types of items I’d normally have to drive to Asheville to find. I wanted a shop that was filled with items I love.” She finds that the mix of customers is about fifty percent locals and fifty percent visitors to the area, which she thinks is wonderful. “I also wanted to make these beautiful items available for a reasonable price, something that people from this area could also easily afford.”
Hughes and Bender like to support local artists, and sell jewelry by a number of them. Green Heron Studios from Bryson City provides the shop with stunning polished stones that have been skillfully and delicately wrapped in sterling silver wire. Moxie Jewelry Designs of Asheville provides glass pendants and more. Judith Frampton of Waynesville also has art here; a variety of seed-beaded items. The women point out some pieces that are made with sea glass—cloudy blues and greens hand-wrapped in sterling silver, to hang from your ears—are designed by Jeri Hartman, who spends part of each year in the mountains. Maggie Valley artist Traci Owens also sells here; beaded feather earrings are her specialty.
“When I was more actively making art, I was supported by this community, selling my pieces in local businesses. I wanted to do the same for other artists,” says Hughes.
Although neither woman spends much time making art themselves these days, they both have a few pieces in the store. Hughes has recently started silk painting, and one of her brightly colored painted scarves hangs in the front window. Bender has a few quilted wall pieces, some sun catchers, bookmarks, and jewelry (including necklaces and earrings) in various spots around the store.
On slow days, Hughes will bring her materials to the store and paint right at the counter, and on some weekends there will occasionally be working artists in the store.
But back to the Poo-pourri. In the room farthest to the back, the one filled with soaps smelling of verbena, lemon grass, and lavender, is a product called Poo-pourri. The tag-line on the product is, “Spritz the bowl before you go and no one else will ever know.” It’s an air-freshener that prevents bathroom smells before they happen by using the product in the bowl before going.
“This stuff really works,” says Bender excitedly. “I took it on a ski trip with friends this winter, and it worked like a charm.” She goes on to add that people regularly come in looking for the stuff when their supply dwindles. Apparently, it’s a best-seller!
In the same room the ladies point out a display of lotion that bears the Women in the Moon label; the scent is grapefruit and as it’s tested on me, I can see why they’d want their name on this product. It smells and feels heavenly.
After we make our way around the store, we settle back in the front room to talk. But not before Bender does her best Royal Wedding Guest impression. A new haircut prompts her to try on a headband from the store’s great selection; this particular one is brown and features feathers and other poofs. Once it’s placed on her head, she looks like she’d fit right in as a guest at the Royal Wedding with her proper headgear.
Hughes points to the painting behind Jody that I noticed on the way in. It’s her aunt, her daughter’s great-aunt. “She was a fabric artist in the 1930’s in Manhattan, and she did textile design,” says Hughes. “She married a brain surgeon, so I thought she was perfect for the store: a blend of art and medicine..”
And what about the name of the shop, Women in the Moon? Says Hughes, “When I was a kid I always thought, Why do people always say man in the moon? Why isn’t it ever woman in the moon? Women have such a connection to the moon; we’re cyclical as it is. When Jody and I were going to open the business together, it just felt right to bring in my childhood idea of a woman in the moon.”
Both women acknowledge that opening a shop together has been an amazing growth experience for their relationship. “It’s brought us closer on so many different levels. We’ve had to learn to communicate on a business level, a creative level, really even a spiritual level; it’s been such a blessing,” says Hughes.
Women in the Moon, 163 South Main Street, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 5 in Waynesville. Bender, who is a busy project manager, takes an active role in the social media aspects of the business. “We’re on Facebook and Twitter, and we’re working on updating our website now,” she says. Their twitter handle is @womeninthemoon and you can find their Facebook page by searching for Women in the Moon. You can also get in touch with them the old-fashioned way, by calling them at (828)452-4558.
Jen Trinque is a life coach, writer, and artist living in Waynesville with her two cats, Nola and Coconut, and her spousal equivalent, Anthony. She can be reached at JenTrinque@gmail.com or www.JenTrinque.com.