Sofi Madison, though a native of Weston, found her niche while living out West. The 28-year-old was drawn to the food and gift shops in small towns throughout California and Colorado, and decided to bring that grass-roots philosophy back to Boston with her, opening Olives and Grace, nestled in the South End. The store, which opened mid-July, features a handpicked inventory, all selected by Madison.
What influenced you to leave San Francisco for Boston to open a specialty store after nearly a decade away?
I came back under the impression that I could create the little nook that attracted me in San Francisco. Without leaving everything I love from the West Coast — which is the farmers’ markets and the handmade world that’s huge out there — I wanted to move to Boston, bring my love for all of that here, and make a business out of it. I knew what I was looking for as a consumer, and it didn’t exist [in Boston]. I wanted to create a store that I wanted to shop at, something that curious shoppers would choose as a go-to, one-stop shop for high-end, handmade, charming gifts. Boston is a highly educated city, people look for quality and to support small businesses. I thought it was a really good time to start a business where just by being a small business, I’m supporting several others under this roof.
Where does the name Olives and Grace come from?
It’s a tribute to having nice things that are also good products that have heart and integrity to them. We connect with the people and purpose behind it. We’re a well-rounded brick and mortar where people can go in and shop for the food, but find the unexpected.
What about your slogan, “A curtsy to the makers”?
The store itself is my appreciation for the people who will quit their corporate job to do something they feel passionate about, or who put everything they have to create something that’s competing against a mass-produced product. Each one of the products we have on the shelves is local to the Massachusetts area, or is a small business from somewhere in this country, but we wanted a gift store that wasn’t just about handmade gifts. There’s products you might find at a farmers’ market or at a specialty grocery store, but you can also find top-shelf housewares and handmade cards. Also, we love products that are giving back. We have an attraction to products that are dedicated to children’s education or women’s economic sustainability. It’s about having a hub where you can walk out with more than you walked in, and connect with the creative community.
What’s one thing that sets Olives and Grace apart from other specialty stores in the area?
We wanted to give a modern, sophisticated, urban take on the traditional gift-giving exchange, so we do gift boxes as an alternative to a gift basket. We have a black box with eco-friendly filler, and black and white tissue paper, which appeals to the classic sophistication of Boston; classic, tailored, well dressed. What’s inside of the gift box is [a symbol of] the community’s appreciation for the arts. We choose six gifts that we think go well together, but we’re also offering the ability for people to come into the store and create their own gift box. This is the kind of gift that you could give to a CEO or a new neighbor.
What’s your favorite product in your inventory right now?
Ajiri tea is a black tea, and each package is made out of banana leaves in Kenya. They’re employing Kenyans to make the packaging of the tea, and 100 percent of the profits for each purchase go toward sending an orphan to school. That’s what [their brand is] all about; “Ajiri” means to employ. It’s one of my favorites, of course because the tea is great, but the mission behind it is flawless.