AIKEN -- On a fateful spring evening in 2010, Toni and Michael Jerome were simply a happily retired couple enjoying an art gallery opening in downtown Aiken.
Toni retired in 2005 from owning The Artists’ Parlor in downtown Aiken and Michael retired in 2004 from his business, Automotive Workbench. As she looked at the art, Toni said she joked with the artists that she felt jealous of the fun they were having. They replied that Toni and Michael should join them; the space downstairs at 137 Laurens Street SW would be available in two days.
“I tell people, and it’s really not even a joke, that we went upstairs retired and came downstairs in business again,” Toni said.
Because both Jeromes had significant experience running their respective businesses, they were excited at the chance to work together.
“I remember saying we have to do this together, and it has to be for fun,” Michael said. “When it stops being fun, we stop doing it.”
After a whirlwind of renovations and buying, Re-fresh Boutique opened in March 2010. Being back in business kept Toni and Michael busy, but also reconnected them with old friends and plunged them back into the art world.
With 27 years of experience working in her frame and art shop, Toni knew what kinds of art she wanted Re-fresh to sell. The pieces Toni and Michael have filled Re-fresh with are handcrafted, come from regional or local artists and have some kind of functionality to them. When pieces are not only beautiful but also serve a purpose, like a clock or serving dish, Toni said customers feel more justified in buying.
“This is a way to not only connect with artists and people who love art, but also bringing art into the everyday life,” she said. “When you find things that are handcrafted and beautiful and have a purpose, people will buy.”
The Jeromes shop at markets in Atlanta and New York, but most of their shop comes from small-scale artists scattered all over the country. One of Toni’s favorite stories to tell begins five years before Re-fresh was in existence, a father and daughter team on the side of the road peddling carved wooden animals painted in bright colors. The Jeromes were visiting Toni’s sister, and bought about ten pieces to bring home and give as gifts. When Re-fresh came into their lives, Toni immediately thought of the roadside artists and asked her sister whether she thought they might still be creating.
Toni and her sister went back to where they had seen them five years earlier, and as they turned the corner the art stand was right where it had been.
“They only come out once a month, on the side of that road, and we just happened to catch them,” Toni said. “We screeched to a halt and I just leapt out of the car.”
The wooden animals now have a constant presence in Re-fresh, and Toni and Michael travel the 800 miles three to four times a year to pick up the pieces.
“It’s that kind of thing that’s just made it so serendipitous and made it such a happy experience,” Toni said.
Michael came up with the name Re-fresh as they prepared to open, and Toni said it’s how they hope customers feel when they enter the store.
“It certainly has rejuvenated us,” she said.