MERIDEN — As a child growing up in Meriden, Melissa Gionfriddo’s grandfather nicknamed her “Tesoro” or my little treasure.
But the nickname had a literal meaning for Gionfriddo. A former human resources professional, her talent and eye for art combined with a family background in business led her to name her gallery and gift shop on Main Street in Middletown Tesoro Artisan Gift Boutique & Gallery.
But the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic forced the boutique and gallery to close. However, it did give Gionfriddo time to return to her hometown roots. She reopened Tesoro in a former antique shop at 763 Hanover Road two weeks ago.
“I thought the hometown vibe would bring it together,” Gionfriddo said Friday in her new shop. “Everything changed, opportunity knocked. Everything here is made by local artisans.”
Her father, Joseph Gionfriddo, was an Italian clothing designer and tailor who founded Gionfriddo Tailors Fine Men’s Clothing on West Main Street, now run by her brother.
Tesoro’s 1,300-square-foot shop space is filled with handmade glass blown windchimes, knitted items, wood gifts, jewelry, soaps, candles, jams and preserves and even a vintage room with depression glass and other antiques she acquired.
Gionfriddo had a grand opening on Small Business Saturday that was very encouraging as new and old customers and vendors found their way to the out-of-the way location.
“It’s been phenomenal, pretty busy,” she said.
The two-year lockdown created opportunities for many of the artists who sell their wares in shops such as Tesoro. Jenessa D’ Acunto, of Newington, is a social worker who dabbled in making soy candles until the pandemic turned it into a business she named Flicker.
D’Acunto met Gionfriddo at a craft fair and they agreed to sell the candles in her new shop.
“I’m very excited,” D’Acunto said. “It started as a hobby, and now it’s grown to Flicker.”
D’Acunto isn’t alone. There are other potters, knitters, photographers, painters, glass blowers and jewelry makers with similar stories looking for retail outlets.
There is a pent up demand to shop for things that are unique and aren’t mass produced for online retail. Customers want the experience of searching for treasure when shopping for gifts.
She has a room to host classes for local artists, whether they are experts or newcomers and is very familiar with the local art scene downtown at Gallery 53. Instructor Christine Webster was her former art teacher and the two women stay in contact. Gionfriddo said they collaborate on classes to avoid redundancy.
“We’re totally different,” Gionfriddo said. “I want to work with them adjunctly to help each other out, not compete with each other.”
Gionfriddo also plans to install a gas stove in the cozy vintage room, and is repairing a rear deck for tea time during the warmer seasons. She hopes customers will see her shop as a destination for relaxing, searching for treasure and appreciating local talent.
“We want to have a great place for people in Meriden to shop and spend some time and support the local talent,” Gionfriddo said.
Tesoro is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, later on Thursdays and has an online website at tesorouniquegifts.com.