BENNINGTON -- Hawkins House, a second generation family-owned business, is thriving in Bennington despite several fellow specialty gift shops having closed in recent years.
Current owners Jonah Spivak and his wife Elizabeth Ganger purchased the store from his parents more than a decade ago and have transformed the space, expanding it to its current 3,200 square feet.
While the store carries a variety of gifts, including wood and glassware, pottery, art and clothing, the main focus is on jewelry.
Originally the workshop and storefront of jeweler Ed Levin, Hawkins House still carries the handcrafted works made popular by the late metalworker, and is the longest-standing retailer to sell the line, now sold nationwide.
"Bennington is a special place, and it's partly because of our local stores here," said Spivak.
"I would say we have the largest collection of jewelry for sale in southern Vermont -- definitely in Bennington," he said, noting he is supportive of other businesses in the area.
Among stores which have closed in recent years, Spivak noted the former Porter House in Manchester, Vt., Designers Circle in Saratoga, N.Y., and a local craft shop in Williamstown, Mass., as leaving shoppers with fewer options for local buying and more reliance on big box stores.
"We all shop in them," said Spivak of chain retailers. "But it's nice when we don't have to," he said, noting that supporting local businesses helps the community.
When Ron and Inga Spivak decided to leave New York City for Vermont in the late 1970s, they settled their family in Shaftsbury.
Formerly an architect, Ron wanted to support his wife's growing interest in weaving and started a business where she and other local artists could sell their wares.
He called it Hawkins House after the historic home the family had moved into, the Munro-Hawkins House, now on the national register of historic places.
In 1980, the Spivaks were ready to expand, and were able to purchase Levin's studio when the designer decided to leave Bennington for Cambridge, N.Y.
Elizabeth and Jonah met in college, and the couple were living together when he started his career as a graphic designer and she worked for his parents as assistant buyer and store manager.
"It really was Liz's excitement and mine as well that has allowed this tradition to continue," said Spivak of the couple's decision to take over the 262 North St. business from his parents.
They eventually purchased the house next door and connected the two spaces, where four full-time employees as well as part-time and seasonal staff members currently work.
Parents to Jack, 11, and Emma, 14, the couple continues their tradition of being family-owned and run. Spivak operates Spectrum Design, his graphic design and website development company, from offices upstairs, and helps with engraving and watch repair.
"We do all our own advertising, marketing and printing," said Spivak. "Our next expansion will be virtual," he said, of the website which currently sells the Ed Levin jewelry line and is being developed to provide online shopping for a range of their other items.
Ganger is now the sole buyer, and said she serves mostly local buyers with a few tourists and repeat customers from out of the area.
Both support local charities and nonprofit organizations. Ganger is a member of the Catamount Rotary and Spivak is on the board of directors for the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.
Spivak's parents remain part-time residents of the area, and Spivak said they are pleased with their son's decision to take over the business.
"Small, family and locally owned businesses like ours are getting more and more infrequent," said Ganger, noting that the couple's daughter enjoys helping out in the store on weekends. "If you come during the busy season pretty much the whole family will be here."
Works from more than 200 different artisans can be found at Hawkins House, which will soon celebrate 35 years in business.
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