by RONA MANN/Photos by Stephanie Sittnick

“Tesoro.”

Tesoro_3_photo_Stephanie_siIf you’re Italian or speak Italian, you know what it means. “Treasure.” If you’re not Italian and don’t speak the language, you have only to get yourself to the North End of Middletown to find out exactly what it means. Because once you open the door at Tesoro Artisan Gift Boutique & Gallery, no translation will ever be needed. This special place is indeed a treasure, yet one that constantly changes.

Yes, open that door, and immediately your senses will be happily assaulted by a veritable explosion of color. Whether it’s the photographs, the clothing, the candles, the pottery, the furniture, or the exquisite linens and pillows from India, there is color virtually everywhere. This place is alive,vibrant, and ever-changing. It’s where creativity meets serendipity, and the result must be put on your list and visited often. Like some of the finest restaurants, cities, and resorts, Tesoro Artisan Gift Boutique & Gallery is not just a store, but a “destination,” and one you will not easily forget.

When she was just a little girl, Melissa Gionfriddo’s Italian grandfather called her “tesoro mio,” because she was his treasure. In addition to his unconditional love, he seemed to sense in the little girl that she was somehow special…gifted. Grandpa obviously knew a good thing when he saw it.

As the little girl grew, Melissa always had a bent toward the artistic and loved to create, complementing her talent with a major in marketing. Working in concert, these talents have helped Gionfriddo create and evolve as an artisan herself, while at the same time learning to appreciate the work of others.

The first location of Tesoro Artisan Gift Boutique and Gallery opened its doors in 2005 on Main Street in Middletown and enjoyed a successful business and large following for more than ten years. “But in 2008 the economy tanked,” Melissa recalls, “still we managed to keep our heads above water. Then in 2011 the building we were in just collapsed, and we were forced to move.”

Always on the cutting edge and loving a challenge, Gionfriddo relocated to the quiet north end of Main Street. “We were one of the first, the pioneers of the North End; and along with noRA Cupcake, Eli Cannon, and now Krust Pizza Bar…we’re out to educate people that Main Street has two ends to it. It doesn’t just happen down there. There’s plenty happening up here.”

So it is not enough for Melissa to merely open for business each day and sit behind a  counter, hoping people will find her. Tesoro Artisan Gift Boutique and Gallery is like a  chameleon, constantly changing, providing new surprises, promoting new artists, taking on new lines, and always involved in presenting new events and ideas. And that takes constant hands-on attention.

It is impossible in this space to recount the entire scope of one-of-a-kind handcrafted items you will find in this gift boutique and gallery, so vast and changing is the inventory, but here to whet your appetite for this shopping experience are some of the highlights:

Remember in the ’60s when you downed a cheap bottle of rose wine, stuck a candle in it, and thought it elegant? A Connecticut artisan has taken this idea up more than a notch, creating magnificent candles and highball glasses from your favorite spirit bottles. And  if you don’t see your brand there, ask Melissa, and she’ll have it created just for you.

Pause for a few minutes and enjoy Jenn’s Scents in a variety of soaps and scented candles, then find the perfect card to accompany a gift purchase of Scrabble charms, handcrafted from the actual game tiles; or pair that greeting card with a brocade tote bag, some tasty mustard, jams, or candies.

Remember when visiting Tesoro Artisan Gift Boutique & Gallery to not just look to the front or the side of you, but look up as well. Art is everywhere! Mobiles made from wine bottles hang from the ceiling, the walls are adorned with copper, and an entire section in the back of the store is filled with vintage shoes, silk dresses, leather shirts, and furniture. The counter in the vintage area is Melissa’s “penny bar,” for under the glass, perfectly aligned in rows are 10,000 actual pennies. “I love the warmth of copper,” Melissa says, recounting it took five people five days to gingerly place each coin under the glass just-so.

As important as the art in the shop is to Gionfriddo, are the people who help her operate the boutique and gallery. “My staff works with me; not for me,” Melissa says with a seriousness of purpose that makes you realize her sentiment is deep and real. One of her former school teachers, Pat Archibald, who found the shop and a wonderful part time job quite by accident years after she taught Language Arts to Melissa, is quick to say, “We greet every single person who comes in the gallery, and we always say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you for coming in,’ whether or not they bought anything or just browsed and appreciated. That’s the way Melissa wants it and how it’s been from the very first day here. It’s how she feels about customers.”

In addition to Pat – Ada, Donna, and Sharon complete a staff that enjoys coming to work each day,  enjoTesoro_10_photo_Stephanie_sys seeing what new finds Melissa has acquired from the many shows she attends, and enjoys making Tesoro Artisan Gift Boutique & Gallery not a store, but a  true gallery experience, showcasing the very best artisans from all over the state.

Once a month there are painting classes by reservation only, given by a professional artist and open to students of all levels and abilities; additionally, Melissa books private parties for all occasions and demographics; and every few weeks there is a Gallery Walk on Main, Melissa garnering attention and drawing people in with a drum circle outside.

Ideally in a perfect world Melissa Gionfriddo would like to create an art studio within Tesoro Artisan Gift Boutique and Gallery…a place where she would happily invite artists and artisans alike to come work on their current creations any time they wanted. A place that would be vibrant and alive, where creativity abounded, and customers could watch the creative experience happen right before their eyes.

For right now that goal is on the back burner, but not too far back. Melissa Gionfriddo has a long reach and has always operated as a creator, a survivor, and a dreamer, yet with her feet firmly planted in reality. She loves her boutique and gallery and loves even more welcoming customers to that space. It represents for her an outlet for her own creativity, a place for the appreciation of the creativity of others, and a way to satiate her appetite  for more.

Melissa Gionfriddo is a woman fueled both by a passion for her art and a desire to make everything around her beautiful and full of life. Watching as she greets vendors and chats up customers with a broad smile and eyes flashing, she cocks her head slightly to one side. Makes one wonder if perhaps she is straining to hear an echo from the past  whispering: “Tesoro mio.”

Grandpa definitely knew a good thing.

Tesoro Artisan Gift Boutique & Gallery is located at 680 Main Street in the North End of Middletown
www.TesoroUniqueGifts.com  (860) 704-0607

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