The scent of organic soaps and the soothing, neutral tones of ethically made women’s wear create a Zen-like atmosphere at Phosphene, a new boutique at 806 Caroline St.
It’s a dream come true for Rachel Berenbaum, who’s wanted to own a retail shop since her days as a student at the University of Mary Washington. The 2012 grad was a senior project manager for Mozilla in California before she and her husband moved back to Fredericksburg last year.
“It was an ‘if not now, when?’ moment,” she said of opening Phosphene last month. “I’m very grateful to stop living other people’s dreams and go for it.”
Phosphene, named for those little sparks of light that can flash behind eyelids, is one of a number of retail shops and restaurants that have either opened in downtown Fredericksburg recently—or are about to.
Berenbaum said she came up her shop’s name because it reflects the sparks of ideas she said are always bouncing around her brain. It also conveys the sense of elegance that she’s aiming for with the store’s selection of women’s clothing, skin care and home décor. She said more people than ever are interested in conscious consumerism, and she is focusing on designers who have ethical business practices, use sustainable fabrics such as sill and linen, and create garments that are meant to last well beyond the current season.
“We’re here for everyone, but our customers will likely be women between the ages of 18 and 60,” she said.
Phosphene also carries soy candles, handmade soaps, facial care products and some housewares. It will eventually offer workshops to teach people such things as how to make candles or block print fabrics.
“We’re still developing that concept,” Berenbaum said.
Coraly Cruise said she’s always wanted to create unique recipes to make people smile, but it took Hurricane Maria to make her realize she had the makings of what has become Caley’s Quick Shop at 1101 Caroline St.
Cruise is from Puerto Rico, and she coped with the stress of not being able to reach loved ones there after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017 by making jewelry and other crafts. When she finally got a chance to fly home and visit, she took a road trip through the principality of Aguada, where ice cream shops are popular. That inspired her to use fresh ingredients to create and sell gourmet popsicles when she got back to Virginia.
She found a space in the big green building at the corner of Amelia and Caroline streets, opened Caley’s and began offering not only popsicles but also ice cream and jewelry. The idea, she said, was to offer customers a chance to find a small gift while enjoying a sweet treat. She also plans to expand her offerings.
“We have many things coming soon for the fall and winter season,” Cruise said. “We are bringing bubble waffles, waffle pops, milkshakes, coffee, hot chocolates and more.”
Jodie Vaughn opened Fort To-Go, a new toy store at 900 Caroline St., after seeing the success of the small retail section at Fort, her creative playtime business at 202 Herndon St.
“We felt that it was a way to make Fort more visible,” she said. “You only knew about us if you came here to play.”
Fort To-Go sells toys designed for open-ended play, including what Vaughn calls “loose play parts”—an assortment of large and small unpainted wooden boards, blocks and hoops that can be assembled in myriad ways. The shop also carries felt mice, doll houses, cars and superhero costumes, along with wooden “Fort To-Go boxes.” The boxes, which come in two sizes, have figurines, fences and other pieces a child can use to create specific themes, such as a farm or safari. Refills are available as well.
The shop features several areas where children can play with the items for sale, and there’s even a maker space in the back of the shop if they want to create their Fort To-Go box there.
“We don’t want this to be a place where you can’t touch anything,” Vaughn said. “I have three kids and know what it’s like to walk into a store and worry that they’ll touch things.
Having a hands-on experience while sipping wine is what another new downtown business is all about. Michelle Flynn discovered Wine and Design, which offers what it calls “sip and paint” parties, several years ago when a friend went to one in Charlottesville.
“I thought it was an amazing business concept, and there was nothing like it in Fredericksburg at the time,” she said.
She opened a Wine and Design franchise in Falmouth about five years ago, but moved it to 709 Caroline St. in August after the building where she had been located was sold.
Adult customers get all the supplies and a lesson to create a painting on canvas along with a 10-ounce glass of wine, and there are non-alcoholic classes just for kids. The business is a popular spot for a variety of celebrations, team building and fundraisers, and offers a Wine & Design on Wheels program that can go out into the community.
“I’m really excited to be downtown, especially near the holidays” Flynn said. “We’re getting ready for Treats on the Streets, and will do kids camps this winter before Christmas.”
River Rock Outfitters, which opened five years ago at 915 Sophia St., will move to a larger space at 215 William St. Nov. 1.
“Sophia Street doesn’t get a lot of pedestrian traffic,” said April Peterson, who owns the business with her husband Keith Peterson. “We were looking for a space that we could grow into and get more traffic. Nov. 7 is our fifth-year anniversary. It’s time for us to grow and get where everything’s happening.”
River Rock will go from 2,500 square feet of display space to 3,700 square feet, which will allow the Petersons to expand their offerings. It will also have a showroom for kayaks in the back.
April Peterson said they’re also happy they won’t be on Sophia Street when construction begins on the Chatham Bridge and Riverfront Park. The couple will close their existing location Thursday, and will probably wait until Nov. 7 to celebrate their re-opening.
The owner of Jay’s Downtown Sports Lounge on William Street was kicking around ideas for a new concept with his executive chef when he mentioned his love of biscuits.
Thus was born the idea for Fork ‘n’ Biscuit, a biscuit-themed restaurant Sanjay Sharma plans to open next month at 715 Caroline St. The menu will be based around biscuits the size of hamburger buns, and feature a variety of fillings such as bacon, egg and cheese as well as pulled pork with fried onions. Prices will start round $6 and go up to $16 for a hollowed-out biscuit filled with shrimp and grits.
“Our theme will be like brunch all day, every day,” said owner Sanjay Sharma. “It’s not exactly brunch, but that’s close.”
William Epes, his executive chef, is Virginia born and raised and said that his grandmother taught him how to make biscuits. He said he’s tweaked her recipe and added a “secret ingredient not found in most biscuits.”
“I think biscuits speak to you on a comfort level,” he said. “Most everyone can think back to their mother or grandmother making biscuits for them. The whole thing is to design a menu that spoke to you on a comfort level.”
Fork ‘n’ Biscuit will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offer a to-go service likely to appeal to commuters using the nearby train station. It’s also teamed up with Virginia Commonwealth Roasters in Stafford County, which is creating a special blend for the restaurant.
“We were supposed to open months ago,” Epes said. “The biggest hiccup now is our health department review. We’re on the waiting list.”
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407