New Florence shop offers decor and more
There’s just a little bit of everything going on inside the country craft store. A couple passing by stopped to check out some of the fall decorations and homemade candles that are making way for the upcoming Christmas displays. Other employees in the back are painting their next project to be sold — wooden angels. Others are in the wood shop sanding items. And customers take a break from shopping at the in-house coffee and breakfast shop.
But crafts, coffee and candles aren’t just what makes this place special. It’s the mission that brings all these folks together.
For more than five years, Grow2Gather in New Florence has employed those with all abilities and offered handmade crafts, home decor items, furniture and more from their shop just off Interstate 70. Their items are made and sold on-site and also found in stores in Warrenton and Hermann.
Grow2Gather is a self-funded program through the Developmental Disabilities Assistance Board of Montgomery County. The board bought the storefront in 2017 and manager Amy Johnson joined the following year.
“It’s a huge winding road how we got here today from just starting with candles,” she says. “But we’ve just kind of added things as we’ve grown to serve our employees and the public.”
Grow2Gather has about two dozen employees between all their operations. “We wanted the store to be integrated with employees of all kinds of abilities,” Amy says. “It was important to us that we did that and paid at least minimum wage.”
The employees work for four hours each weekday morning and six hours on Saturday and range in age from 18 to their mid 80s. They make items for the store or help in the restaurant anywhere from four to 28 hours per week depending on their lifestyle. Amy, assistant manager Mel Brown and her team map out the items and projects the team will create in the back of Grow2Gather or in the adjacent wood shop. She says each project is tailored to the abilities of their employees.
“It’s important for us that we can give them tasks that can challenge them,” she says. “We don’t want them to just be doing the same repetitive task every day.”
That constant change is one of employee Mindy Nelson’s favorite things about working at Grow2Gather. “Unlike a lot of other jobs I’ve done, it always seems like we’re doing something different every day,” she says. “Even throughout the day we change what we do.”
While the items at Grow2Gather rotate seasonally, there is one season that lasts all year long, at least in the wood shop and painting room: Christmas. “We start planning our Christmas offerings in January,” Amy says. “Then every month we do at least one or two projects for Christmas that we get done and just put in the back waiting to come out in November.”
Homemade candles were one of the first products Grow2Gather offered and still remain a popular item today. Amy and her team take extra time making sure the raw materials they use are safe.
“We’re very cautious about what we use; we just want to make sure, first off, that our products are safe for our team to work on,” Amy says. “Our candles are 100% organic soy and our fragrances are carcinogen free and we use 100% cotton wicks.”
That cautiousness took center stage in 2020, when COVID-19 brought unrest to just about every phase of life. Amy says the store was just getting its footing and through the first few months they were having their best year ever. “It was awful,” she says. “They all wanted to be here and we just couldn’t do it. Two of us would come up here most days and keep our distance and just try and finish projects that were already started. Slowly and slowly we could add more and more of our team. It just feels good to have everyone back now.”
Amy says the attention to detail and quality of their crafts is what keeps customers coming back. “I know I’m more than a little biased, but our products are really well made and last,” she says. “When people come back and buy their second or third item from us, they’re not doing it just because of our mission. It’s because the products are so good.”
Grow2Gather keeps their prices competitive while also pointing out the handmade quality that will make it last. While furniture — such as benches, tables and lazy Susans — might cost as much as $500, Amy estimates 95% of the items sold in the store range in price from $5 to $75. “I know maybe a big-box store might offer a scarecrow for $10 where ours is $15,” she says. “We do look around at other prices, but we know that ours is going to last you longer.”
In the summer, the employees care for the 45 raised garden beds they have behind the shop and later sell the produce from them.
This fall, the coffee shop inside Grow2Gather expanded to include breakfast. The menu features staples such as breakfast sandwiches and burritos, sweets such as French toast and cinnamon rolls and build-your-own omelets. However, their most popular item — other than coffee — is the homemade biscuits and gravy. “We say it’s the best biscuits and gravy in five states,” Amy says with a laugh.
Jeane Oligschlaeger of Wellsville and her friends “solve all the world’s problems every Monday morning” over coffee at the shop in New Florence.
“Everyone is very friendly and it’s for a good cause,” Jeane says. “We love the kids that work here and love getting to know them. And I’m partial to the biscuits and gravy.”
The coffee can be the perfect roast, the biscuits and gravy can taste just like Grandma used to make and the handmade decor might make the perfect finishing touch to your holiday decorations, but for Mel and Amy, Grow2Gather is about the people.
“I love being creative in my job,” Mel says. “But the coworkers are what I think of the most. They’re fun, funny, sweet and hard workers.”
“I knew when I started they would become a big part of my life,” Amy adds. “But I didn’t realize how they would turn into my family. For all of us here, this is a labor of love.”
Grow2Gather is located at 493 Booneslick Road in New Florence. The store is open Monday to Friday, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday, 7 a.m. to noon. Closed Sunday. For more information, call 573-835-4769, find them on Facebook or visit shopgrow2gather.square.site.