The Bower Studio Gift Shop and Apothecary in Pelham combines naturalist art and herbal remedies

Last modified: Thursday, October 08, 2015

PELHAM — Believing that many people who live in western Massachusetts appreciate both naturalist art and herbal remedies, two Pelham residents are combining their own passions in a new bricks-and-mortar enterprise.

Vincent Frano and Isa Wang, who are partners both in life and business, recently opened The Bower Studio Gift Shop and Apothecary, where they sell a variety of herbs and essential oils, their own art, including prints and soaps they make on site, and the works of about 80 other artists from throughout New England.

“We’re here to promote local and handmade crafts,” said Wang, 25, who believes that many of the crafts made by local artists are sophisticated, but aren’t always well curated. “This will be a space for people to have their artwork displayed year-round.”

Frano, 28, said he wanted to do more to promote herbs and their use in health care.

“We realized there are not a lot of options for herbal apothecary on this side of the state,” Frano said.

The remote site on the Daniel Shays Highway (Route 202) near the Quabbin Reservoir where the store opened in July was most recently home to the Rebel Cafe, a breakfast and lunch spot that opened three years ago, and prior to that had been the Pelham Cross Country Store and Station where people could pick up groceries, liquor and bait.

More recently the building has been empty and in disrepair. “A lot of people are excited to see something here because it’s been vacant for so long,” Wang said.

Wang and Frano took what was formerly the cafe’s main dining area and put in shelves containing the herbs and essential oils, while an area originally a garage is now the show room for art.

Herbs and oils

As customers enter the store, they see row after row of herbs that can be purchased in bulk or by the ounce, and bottles of essential oils.

Frano said the store has about 50 different types of herbs, most kosher, which can be used in drinks, remedies and other products. These include elderberry, which is popular to use in cough syrups and flu remedies, nettle that is put into teas and reishi mushroom for medicines.

“We can offer tips about what to try and how to use them,” Frano said.

The types and kinds of herbs available will change depending on customer demand. “We’re looking to stock more and will respond to people who come in and the requests they make,” Wang said.

Nearby are bottles filled with essential oils used for aromatherapy or which can be added to lotions and oils. These include lavender, peppermint and pachouli, as well as aloes with specialty rose, vanilla and jasmine.

Other edible products include drinking vinegars made by local makers Delicious Dirt Designs & Apothecary in Holyoke and Hearth Moon Rising in Boston; the Apotheker’s Chocolate brand, a Boston-based manufacturer of hand-crafted chocolate bars; chutneys and relishes, also produced in Boston; and maple syrups from Vermont.

The gift store area is divided into various sections where customers can find crafts as well as home-decor items, garden and pet supplies, kitchen and bath products, and children’s activities.

The garden area includes extensive information about bees, which both Frano and Wang have made a focus due to the colony collapse disorder affecting the insects. “We’re trying to raise awareness of pollinators and want to plan to help bees,” Wang said.

In fact, Frano has done prints of bees, with proceeds from these sales benefitting the Honey Bee Health Research Project.

Leather products and feathers are made by Earth Circles, based in Pelham, and other artists make ceramics, wooden spatulas and spoons, candles and scarves. There are also herbal gels and bath and skin-care products, and, for youngsters, plushes, flower presses and alphabet blocks.

Much of the art has a naturalist theme, Wang said, including what he describes as “natural curiosities,” such as fossils and geodes. “This helps promote awareness of the natural ecosystem,” he added.

The herbal and shaving soaps are made on site in the restaurant’s former kitchen. Wang and Frano also produce their own salves made from beeswax.

Both Wang and Frano are relatively new to the area. Wang became familiar with western Massachusetts as a child making visits from Connecticut, and said he now appreciates living in Pelham and away from the city. Frano, who had been living in Boston, first learned about the area from studying under Brittany Nickerson, a local herbalist and health educator.

The store has a website that allows Frano and Wang to sell products wholesale. Eventually, they hope to bring events to the store, including workshops related to herbs and crafts.

The bowerbird, a species native to Australia, gives the store its name, Frano said. That bird decorates its nest in a specific way using feathers and other natural objects, and Frano added that he hopes the store’s customers in a similar way find objects there they can use to decorate their homes.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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