Rhodes and Stabile

Tammy Rhodes, left, and Cherie Stabile, are the owners of Yaya and The Tree of Life.

WOONSOCKET — Yaya and The Tree of Life, a “handmade gift shop for everyone,” as their motto states, has moved into 2 Monument Square, Suite J, the latest addition to a Main Street that has seen a boost in retail-oriented shops in recent months.

Longtime friends Tammy Rhodes and Cherie Stabile opened their gift store on Nov. 27 and have been happy with the turnout they have received, they told The Breeze this week. The store offers many forms of art and homemade items, including soaps, wreaths, embroidery, jewelry, cards and doll clothes.

Whether an artist is 10 years old or 72, they said, Rhodes and Stabile welcome sellers with unique products.

“We were very particular,” Rhodes said. “We wanted everything to be unique and different from each other.”

Both crafters themselves, Rhodes and Stabile met while selling their items at art fairs. Stabile said she had been hearing from many people that she should open a store to sell her items, and in September of 2021, came to Rhodes and told her she wanted to open a craft store.

Combining their powers of business experience and connections with other crafters has helped them fill the store and gave them the ability to open in two months, the owners said.

The name “Yaya and The Tree of Life” resulted as a mix between Rhodes’ and Stabile’s past businesses. Stabile previously had a store called “Tree of Life,” which she said “came to her one day.” She credits it to her spiritual side and her love of trees.

Rhodes previously owned Yaya’s Rack, a handmade craft store named for the Greek word “Yaya,” which means Grandma, as well as her love of the novel “The Divine Secrets of the Yaya Sisterhood.”

Rhodes, a native Californian, came to Woonsocket 20 years ago and has stayed ever since. Stabile was born and raised in Fall River, Mass., and moved to Woonsocket nine years ago.

“It’s home,” Rhodes said. “If someone from the outside were to actually walk around, they could see that there is so much to Woonsocket. It’s a shame the city gets such a bad reputation.”

“It’s a nice little city,” Stabile added. “We’re still getting used to having a business. We’re like newborns in a sense.”

Former Downtown Woonsocket Collaborative Executive Director Garrett Mancieri, who announced this week he is stepping down from the position, said the city’s reputation could soon change. Over the past five years, he said, the vacancy rate on Main Street has decreased by 30 percent, and he expects it to continue as more businesses come into the city. Other recent additions to Main Street include Geri’s Bluffing Boutique, an African boutique run by local entrepreneur Geraldine Barclay-King, Past Down in Time antique store, and Monument Square Arts.

One of the issues the area continues to face, he said, is that spaces that could be occupied are in need of renovations. Mancieri said that DWC will be seeking American Rescue Plan Act funds for renovations to bring spaces into compliance with fire and building codes.

“A lot of the buildings, especially on Main Street and the downtown area, were built 100 years ago,” he said. “I always have people contacting me, especially artists, looking for studio spaces, but it’s hard if they have to spend $10,000 to $30,000 on a space they’re renting.”

He hopes ARPA funds could help bridge the gap and fill in the last unoccupied spaces.

Mancieri said Main Street businesses often provide services or items that cannot be found at big box stores. As people transition away from large corporations, he said, he hopes they will find their way to local stores such as Yaya and The Tree of Life.

“We’re trying to focus on things that can’t be found or done online, so that is why you’re seeing a lot of hair salons and boutique shops that you can only find one-of-a-kind handmade items at,” he said. “Those are the kinds of things we’re trying to focus on — arts, culture and restaurants.”

Mancieri said that the revitalization of Main Street is important because it tells the story of Woonsocket.

“When you drive down Main Street, and you think about the history of the city, it tells a story, and that’s why I think the buildings are so important to preserve,” he said.

“They tell the future of our community.”

Mancieri said that it makes him sad to see parking lots between the businesses on Main Street, because he knows there used to be buildings there. He stated that he believes there should be no parking lots on Main Street.

“To me, a parking problem is the best kind of problem you can have, because then that means you have a successful, thriving district,” he said. “You can always create parking, but you can’t re-create those buildings.

“That is the thing we need to hold onto and do whatever we can do to preserve them.”

“Millennials don’t have the same mentality that boomers do, where you have to get in your car,” he added. “There’s a generation out there that is looking for the lifestyle where everything is walkable, and you don’t need to get into a car and have car bills or pay for gas.”

In the future, Mancieri said, he also hopes to see more people living on Main Street.

“We want people to live downtown, because that’s the best way to get people into businesses, shops or restaurants. The best customers are the ones that live upstairs and down the street.”

Rhodes and Stabile said that a lack of consumers and high rent have made it a struggle to open a business in Woonsocket. Despite the struggles, they agreed that opening Yaya and The Tree of Life has “been totally worth it.”

Yaya and The Tree of Life’s hours are Monday through Saturday, 10-6 p.m., and Sunday, noon-4 p.m. The store can be reached by email at yayanthetree@gmail.com or found on Facebook under Yaya and The Tree of Life.

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