James Cofrancesco and Alli Greenberg. Jamiah Green Photos.
At one end of the New Haven Green, a table filled with jewelry made from childhood toys caught passers-by by surprise. There were tiny animated characters from the early 2000s, miniature grocery items, images of doll-sized plastic shoes. Together, it felt like a treasure trove of millennial memories.
Alli Greenberg and James Cofrancesco’s small business The Junk Drawer was one of several to pop up on the New Haven Green earlier this month, at a winter market meant to usher in the holiday season. As Christmas music sailed from speakers set up nearby, vendors sold a mix of clothing, jewelry and trinkets, bath and body products and other locally made goods. The sweet, sugary smell of a Many Donuts station hung in the air, inviting people to stay a while.
“It’s a lot of hard work and you feel like you aren’t doing enough pretty much every day,” Greenberg said as she welcomed visitors to her tent. “But it’s such a rewarding feeling when you do get the gratification whether it’s financially or just compliments from random people.”
Tents lined the Green in a neat row, all looking out over the city’s newly-lit Christmas tree. As they walked through the space, attendees were able to chat away with friends while nibbling on snacks and watching their kids run around the tree. Some, like MakeHaven and East Street Arts, greeted them with familiar names. Others came for the first time.
Some, like Greenberg and Cofrancesco, developed their small businesses as a pandemic hobby. When Covid-19 hit New Haven, Greenberg lost her job as a waitress. As Connecticut went into lockdown, she bought a jewelry making kit to try and keep busy. When one of her friends announced that she was cleaning out her childhood home, Greenberg decided to take all the toys that were no longer needed and recycle them. Her interest in eco-friendly, reused jewelry is now part of the shop’s mission.
It isn’t how she thought she’d be using a degree in business from Eastern Connecticut State University—but she’s having fun doing it. Even though businesses have reopened, Greenberg has an autoimmune condition that makes her skittish about working in the service industry, particularly as cases rise again. She said that the new business has also given her the opportunity to educate herself about e-commerce and understand rapidly changing marketing trends.
Down the line of tents, Luia Estevez of The Box of Malu showed off a display of handcrafted jewelry spaced out on two tables. There was a variety of earrings, necklaces, and bracelets with small gems and bright beads. When asked about her history of making jewelry, Estevez said that she developed a passion for handcrafted items many years ago, and is proud to share her work with loved ones and social networks.
“I followed my passion at home and shared it with my loved ones,” Estevez said. “At any time of the day and night, I might wake up because some storms are on my mind and I started to work on my jewelry.”
Estevez added that her next steps are to expand her business through social media and sell her work on the internet. Currently, she works with a variety of materials, from countries across South and Central America. Keeping a selection of these materials helps her create new design ideas, she said.
“It is so nice when people like my work and encourage me to continue,” Estevez said. “Don’t give up following your feelings!”