Offbeat Outpost: A New Store in St. Johnsbury Offers Eclectic, Playful Finds for Children and Adults | Kids VT | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Offbeat Outpost: A New Store in St. Johnsbury Offers Eclectic, Playful Finds for Children and Adults


Published August 16, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated September 1, 2022 at 2:55 p.m.

Socks by Woven Pear - STEVE LEGGE
  • Steve Legge
  • Socks by Woven Pear

After nearly 20 years of teaching art, Alison Bergman won't be going back to school this fall. Instead of decorating and stocking a classroom that nurtures creativity, she's cultivating it through Art & Joy, an eclectic gift shop she opened earlier this year in St. Johnsbury.

Over the past few months, the Northeast Kingdom store has become a destination for customers seeking offbeat cards and gifts, unique and durable children's toys, and work by local artists.

"She's looking at things from her artist's perspective and bringing a breath of fresh air to the town," said Andrea Poe, a local artist whose paintings hang in the store. "Everything in there is either really thoughtfully made or beautiful or funny or relevant."

The small but airy space, located on Railroad Street in the heart of downtown St. Johnsbury, is filled with items more commonly found in urban markets. Think Pergamo retro animal magnets and stickers and classic G.I. Joe figurines doing yoga.

Bergman's background in art education has informed her curation of Art & Joy's robust children's section, which includes beautifully crafted Timberkits mechanical model-building kits, Frida Kahlo-inspired paper dolls, birding journals and handheld electronic drums. Bergman said she wants to sell toys that foster organic play and creativity — and can withstand more than a few play sessions.

Gnome candles - STEVE LEGGE
  • Steve Legge
  • Gnome candles

She also sources items internationally, such as leaf-shaped ceramics from Japan, strawberry-inspired wicker purses from Amsterdam and Constantin Brâncui-style candleholders made by a Ukraine-based artist.

The globe-trotting sensibilities of Art & Joy reflect Bergman's own adventures. Raised by her wanderlust-driven parents, Art and Joy — the namesakes of her store — Bergman spent most of her childhood traveling the world, refining her ability to find beautiful things in unlikely places. She made many artist friends along the way, a network rivaling that of her more cosmopolitan peers.

Book and play set - STEVE LEGGE
  • Steve Legge
  • Book and play set

Even so, Bergman firmly believes that St. J is just as exciting a locale as any other for an art-inspired store. "There's a community of like-minded people around here that want to see art celebrated and supported," she said. That includes the Northeast Kingdom Artisans Guild, whose gallery is just down the street.

Bergman knows the community well. She spent most of the past two decades working as an art teacher in the area, including six years at the rural pre-K-12 Cabot School. But teaching in the early days of the pandemic proved especially challenging, and after the 2020 school year, Bergman felt burned-out and ready for a change of pace.

She took a job at the Frame Dames, a framing and art supply store in St. Johnsbury, and was amazed by the number of people she met who were interested in art. 

Alison Bergman - STEVE LEGGE
  • Steve Legge
  • Alison Bergman

An artist herself, Bergman envisioned opening a store that fostered the efforts of local creators. Maggie Gray, owner of Haven, a vintage home goods store, told Bergman about a vacancy in her building. With that nudge and the encouragement of her husband Scott Bergman, a furniture maker, she opened Art & Joy in March. Compared to her job as an art teacher, Bergman said, the undertaking has "been pretty hassle-free."

She soon found herself immersed in a community of people who are rooting for her success and get her sense of humor. She loves hearing customers chuckling while perusing her merchandise. Local resident Deb Foy is an avid Art & Joy shopper. "I think it has a fun mix of stuff and a really nice energy," she said.

Foy once bought a pair of socks with funky embroidery and received countless compliments. One friend loved them so much that Foy returned to Art & Joy to buy her a pair. "There's a gift there for everyone," Foy said, "including yourself."

Appealing to a broad audience is important to Bergman, and she's succeeded: In the five months since the store opened, she's noticed a diverse clientele. Some come in and buy hundreds of dollars' worth of goods "without even batting an eye," she said, while others save up for a special piece for months. Art & Joy offers a spectrum of pricing, with many items in the $10 to $50 range. "It makes me really happy to know that the art is accessible," Bergman said.

Mushroom paper lantern - STEVE LEGGE
  • Steve Legge
  • Mushroom paper lantern

She also wants the store to serve as a gallery for her talented artist friends. Currently on display is Kate Jarboe's colorful, abstract photography, which reflects a nostalgic consideration of childhood objects. Bergman met her in the late 1990s when she was a student worker at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Jarboe was a librarian there. They've been good friends ever since.

A practicing artist herself, Bergman is eager to eventually hire an employee to share the workload so that she can spend more time painting and sculpting in her studio. For now, she's excited to source unique, well-made finds and share them with her customers.

A few weeks ago, she noted, someone bought a book of paintings by Harlem Renaissance painter Jacob Lawrence. Bergman wasn't sure shoppers would recognize him. But the customer had seen a show of Lawrence's work in New York City and left greatly inspired. "Then, all of a sudden," Bergman said, "I'm having this great conversation with somebody about art that we both can connect on and think about. I love it. It's really fun."

Make it a day trip

There's more than enough to do in and around St. Johnsbury to justify a fall excursion. Grab a baked good and coffee at Boule Bakery before checking out the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, a must-see Victorian-era treasure trove filled with natural science and history exhibits. It's across the street from the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, a distinctive public library that houses a small but impressive art gallery. Just outside of town, you'll find Dog Mountain, home to a gallery of the late artist Stephen Huneck's work, as well as the renowned Dog Chapel, which honors the bond between people and their pooches. Another nearby seasonal sight: the Great Vermont Corn Maze in Danville.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

Related Locations

  • Art & Joy