By Donald Wittkowski
You would be hard-pressed to find another business that smells better than Artisan Body Products in Ocean City.
Take a step inside and you’re greeted by an array of nose-pleasing fragrances drifting through the quaint soap and lotion shop at 918 Asbury Ave.
“It pulls them in,” Artisan owner Ione Talese said of her customers. “But with the size of the store, it was a concern. I didn’t want it to overpower them.”
Talese, however, seems to have found the proper balance of great-smelling soaps, lotions, body washes and other natural bath products sold at Artisan. But she also carries unscented soaps and lotions.
Talese opened the store in 2012 after spending an entire year studying the intricacies of the soap industry, including meeting with soap “artists” who handcrafted their products.
She joked that she wanted to share her “soap problem” – her love for high-quality, handmade and natural soaps – with other people, so Artisan Body Products was born.
“I wanted all of the products to be handmade. Boutique, artisan products. They’ve got an artist flair to them,” she explained.
Talese noted that 99 percent of the soaps in her shop are handmade, a dramatic departure from the mass-produced soaps typically sold by the retail giants of the world.
Virtually all of Artisan’s soaps are chemical-free, with the French products being the exception, Talese said. Reflecting the trend toward a healthier lifestyle, she also sells soaps that are organic, gluten-free and vegan.
When soaps come into her store, they are about the size of a loaf of bread. The soap is then cut into slices, depending on how much the customers want.
In addition to soap, Artisan also carries lotions, body washes, exfoliating scrubs and other bath products. Talese also packages her products in gift baskets, giving her customers the convenience of one-stop shopping.
“I want to make good products accessible and affordable,” she said.
Jane Miller Glenn, 73, of Beesleys Point, an Artisan customer and one of Talese’s longtime friends, said she likes the soaps and accessories. But what really sets Artisan apart from other stores is the personalized service that Talese gives to her customers, Miller Glenn said.
“It’s her personality,” she said of Talese. “She speaks to you and knows what she’s talking about.”
Miller Glenn, formerly of Ocean City, once ran a thrift shop, called Finders Keepers, out of the same space now occupied by Artisan Body Products.
Talese, 57, the niece of famed author Gay Talese, who formerly lived in Ocean City, has strong ties to the local community. Her family is from Ocean City. After spending some time away from town, she returned in 1974.
For 28 years, she was in the hand-painted furniture business, but her career path took a different turn when she decided to open Artisan Body Products.
Open year-round, the store is able to tap the tourist market in the summer months, but mainly depends on local customers during the quieter off-season.
“The local customers really support me. I’m really blessed,” Talese said. “We’re lucky to have such strong local support.”
While some might guess that a soap and lotion shop would be exclusively for women, 40 percent of Talese’s customers are men, she said. Artisan has a men’s section featuring a line of soaps, lotions, body washes, shaving creams, shaving brushes and old-style metal shavers that use razor blades.
With a store that is only about 700 square feet, space is at a premium. Talese said she is looking to expand to a larger space, but wants to stay on Asbury Avenue in the heart of the downtown shopping district.
“I think we’re outgrowing ourselves here,” she said. “I think we need more space.”