Vanessa Beller, Local Candy Store Owner
A Secret Forest
Written by: Jo Ann L. Breaux
102 W Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23220
I love cities. I love the architecture of the buildings, the bustle of people, and I love passing shop windows (huge fan of Breakfast at Tiffany’s here). The revitalization of Downtown Richmond has been gradual and noticeable, but I don’t feel it hasn’t found it’s oomph yet. Quirk Hotel and Gallery provides a hip and new experience, while First Fridays get people out and about and perusing the galleries, but what happens the rest of the days? With historic Jackson Ward seeing some new retail and housing developments, hopefully it will stir renewed interest in downtown. Can you imagine?
I was going to Max’s on Broad the other day and happenstance brought me in front of this storefront whose decor held my fancy. I’m a big fan of Victorian things. I love lace and ornate pieces of furniture and I love unique gifts. A Secret Forest is a quaint candy shop full of sugary delights and confections. Shop owner, Vanessa Beller and her husband Mike decided to make Richmond their home 4 months ago. It was between us and Charlottesville. We won. They now reside in historic Church Hill and Vanessa’s candy shop lies between N. Adams and Jefferson, right in the hub of the Arts District.
Trained in the art of pastry, Vanessa’s confectionary passion didn’t lie in frosting and ganache, but channeled it’s way in the form of hard candy. Starting with making the delights for her friends and family and finding their way onto the internet. She began selling on Etsy six years ago, and although a majority of her orders come from the internet and have been shipped all over the world, her hopes is that this shop becomes a more frequented local establishment. It doesn’t hurt that she’s located right next door to the children’s clothing boutique, Nomad.
Vanessa finds inspiration for her wares from a variety of places including art and architecture as well as vintage influences. While the back of her shop features the ingredients and that of a person eagerly inventing new merchandise and fulfilling orders, the front of the shop is…well…sweet. Adorned with unique lollipops, chocolates, small gift items and antique candy bins, you can’t resist feeling like you’ve stepped into Marie Antoinette’s secret closet.
Starting a brick and mortar has its own risks and anxiety, but starting it on top of moving 3,000 miles away from West to East coast to start a whole new life can be downright frightening. Luckily, they’ve moved to a place where the support has been overwhelming. Upon putting up the stunning floral wallpaper, Vanessa recalls saying to herself, “What did I do, did I make the biggest mistake of my life…” Feeling overwhelmed and realizing the financial risk of starting a business, and that wallpaper, she got a knock on the door. It was Katie Ukrop, there to welcome her and give words of encouragement. It summed up her answer to my question of what she loves about Richmond so far.
The people honestly. We have an instant group of really cool friends. It took no time to meet people. It’s so easy to make friends here. The small business community is so supportive and welcoming, I just love it! It’s amazing.
Vanessa said that where she’s from in LA she had a small group of friends and that was it, but here she feels people are approachable, supportive with a good sense of community. All of sudden she has this huge network of new friends and business relationships. She barely has time to explore her new city, let alone try some of the great restaurants she keeps hearing about, but she’s hoping after the holiday season to have more time to do so. For now, she does loves her Church Hill neighborhood and being able to walk to nearby places. Her only complaint about it is the difficulty in finding a good nearby grocery store.
As I peruse the lucite-like lollipops with their cute designs and holiday cheer, I asked Vanessa if she was busy for the holidays. Fortunately, she is with many corporate clients and online orders. She can provide customized merchandise for her clients and her wares make great gifts for the holidays, weddings, showers, etc. Her confections come in a variety of flavors including peppermint, rose, champagne, and gingerbread. She also does vegan gummy bears!
With First Fridays providing ample foot traffic, her shop will attract a good amount of passersby, but for A Secret Forest the challenge will be to keep that consistent. In time, I feel downtown will be bustling again in time. If you have a chance, stop by her pretty little shop. She’s friendly and talented and her candies will make you a hit at your event.