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In our Ask a Shopkeeper series, we tap the coolest store owners we know for a tour of their space and to ask them what items are trending right now—and beyond. For this installment, Marichelle Hills—owner and creative director of the newly opened Meus in Maplewood, New Jersey—takes us inside her gift shop, which she describes as “an-old school department store that the art students took over at night.” 

What was the genesis behind Meus?
Marichelle Hills: After deciding to move to the suburbs of New Jersey from New York’s West Village back in 2008, I suddenly found myself feeling lost. I was a new mom, didn’t know many people, and didn’t have family around. I really missed the ease of being in the city, having quick access to my favorite shops, and the overall buzz of NYC. I spent several years as a stay-at-home mom raising my two older daughters. By the time I got pregnant with my youngest, I knew that I was ready to find myself again. I had no desire to go back to the corporate world of digital production—I craved something more creative. 

With Meus, I inadvertently created the community that I had been missing. The shop is more than just a place to buy your favorite goods; it’s somewhere to make new connections. I think of being a shopkeeper like being a therapist, and the shop is a service. People come in here and it’s a safe place. Everyone’s accepted. They can talk about whatever. I was married twice (both times to men), and now I’m a lesbian—nothing’s gonna rock our boats.

Meus was inspired by the neighborhood gift shop in Queens that you frequented as a child. What influences carried over?  
Hills: It was my go-to spot. I trusted that I would find what I needed there. The woman who owned that shop was so helpful and super into figuring out the perfect gift. We do the same at Meus. We ask lots of questions about the recipient when we’re helping customers figure out the perfect gift. It’s not about what’s new or what’s on trend, but who the person is. Nothing makes me happier than hearing that a customer was sent in by their partner knowing that they would be happy with whatever they chose as a gift, as long as it was from my shop.

Describe the design of the store.
Hills: I enlisted the help of my friend and genius interior designer Hollie Velten to design the shop of my dreams. I first met Hollie about 10 years ago through a mutual acquaintance. I immediately felt connected to her on a personal and creative level—drawn to her warmth, authenticity, humility, intelligence, and artistic eye—when I worked with her to design a space-challenged bedroom for all three of my daughters. I trust her 100 percent, so when she presented a concept reminiscent of early dry goods and department store rotundas (think: Le Bon Marche and A.T. Stewart), but with an evolved, more inclusive use between the space and customer, my response was: When do we start?

Hollie Velten: We started by placing the cash wrap directly in the center of the space. We went with mostly dark woods and brass, so there was a soulful, old-world feeling near the soft onyx countertop and Marichelle’s beautiful signature jewelry mix. We kept thinking of a dialogue between the past and a new life, almost a revisionist history—what would it look like to take space in an old place like this now, a sort of time-travel pop-up. The red stripes (like a traveling circus), nudes, papier-mâché, and some of Marichelle’s brilliant and curious product assortments conjure a spirit of counterculture. 

What kind of home goods do you carry, and how do you find what you stock?
Hills: Ceramics, textiles, and thoughtfully designed cannabis accessories. As a general rule, I carry what I love. I tend to focus on pieces that evoke a feeling or can turn a simple act or ritual into something memorable. When I’m sourcing products—whether it be at a trade show, directly from makers, or from spotting a product in an Airbnb—I notice whether or not it celebrates a small moment or turns the mundane into something more special. 

For instance, I’m a big coffee drinker, and my first cup in the morning is something that I look forward to each day, so I’m always on the lookout for good mugs to keep in stock that are made by hand. I have a suncatcher mobile that I sourced for the shop that also hangs in our dining room at home. It reflects the sunshine at a very specific time in the day. It’s a nice reminder to pause and appreciate this split second before the sun moves on. It’s moments like these that I consider when deciding what kind of home goods to carry at Meus.

What pieces have been trending, or what are shoppers most drawn to lately?
Hills: Jewelry is our best-seller. Now more than ever, people are showing more kindness to themselves and treating themselves to special pieces. We’re seeing people mix and match the metals they wear and effortlessly pile on a lot of pieces without overthinking.

What’s your favorite corner of the shop?
Hills: Hands down, our massive cash wrap counter. Not only is it visually stunning (we found the most beautiful Missoni-esque patterned stone for the countertops), but functionally, it’s the heart of the shop. Hollie proposed it, and at first, I was hesitant to lose so much floor space. In the end, the risk paid off—it’s the shop’s pièce de résistance. Everyone who walks in comments on how much they love it. It’s where everyone congregates. Our regulars sit at the “bar” and before you know it, more familiar faces come in and it turns into a big hangout. It is quintessentially Meus—communal versus transactional. Conversations are always at the forefront.

Shop Talk

Music that’s always playing in the store: ’80s new wave, definitely. And Sylvan Esso is always on repeat.

Dream shopper to walk into Meus: Carol Aird from the film Carol.

Must-visit local store that isn’t my own: All of my Baker Street neighbors are awesome: City Workshop, Toy Division, Murray & Finn, Baker Street Market, A Paper Hat, City W. Lifestyle Supply Co., and Brave Floral are fantastic.

Where you grab dinner after a day at the shop: Arturo’s.

Favorite piece in stock right now: Everything from jeweler Melissa de la Fuente.