Maybe it’s the soft scent of lavender or the sweet smell of blueberry scones. It could be the deep blue and honey jewel tones of the glass jars of goat milk lotions, made on site, set off against clean, white walls.
By design, Jenny Tijou and Gudrun Allen have created Pleasanton Goods on Main Street in Paris to be ... well ... pleasant.
“You can’t be a bakery and coffee shop and not smell good,” Tijou said with a laugh that echos above a background of soothing music played through the historic building; a building that’s found new life through the two old friends.
Tijou and Allen are celebrating their one-year anniversary in the Alexander Building at 902 Main Street in Paris that has become a community hub and meeting space.
“Life begins,” said the daily message in chalk on a blackboard in an white ornate frame on a wall last week, “where your comfort zone ends.”
When the two women met, they were literally at the end of their comfort zones. Their oldest daughters, now sophomores in high school, looked and dressed alike and immediately became fast friends as they began Montessori school in Paris. Tijou and Allen were both pregnant at the time.
“All of the furniture in Montessori is tiny,” said Tijou. “We would sit and talk about how we’d be stuck until somebody came to help us.”
Tijou had twin boys and Allen another girl. Both came to Paris after marrying men involved in the horse industry. Because of that equine interest, they found that the community had a internationally diverse group people who had traveled a lot and who, like them, felt at home with the slower day-to-day day pace in Bourbon County.
That was a decade, and “what seems like a lifetime ago,” Allen said.
Even as mothers of small children, both threw themselves into community life and continue to do so. Allen was recently volunteer of the year at the Paris Animal Welfare Society, and Tijou was active growing and selling produce at the farmer’s market and writing a column about local farmers and local happenings for the county paper.
Tijou said there were two factors the pushed her to start a soap and lotion business three years ago. Her twin boys have a severe form of Autism and she wanted a family project they could work on that could also help them learn some real world skills. Repetitive, unchanging work like affixing a label to a jar in a specific spot is something at which the boys excel. She enjoyed the creative outlet of finding the right combinations to make her lotions smooth and satisfying so an all-natural line was born.
She worked at home until she ran out of space in her laundry room and kitchen, and requests for her products extended beyond family and friends. Her first retail space was an upstairs shop on Main Street. Allen would come by as an unofficial partner because she found the space soothing.
“She would show up and be like ‘Don’t you need to run an errand? I’ll stay here for you’,” Tijou said, and both of them laughed.
All the time the friends were thinking of ways they might expand, and they had their eye on the Alexander House. The Federalist-style building was built in the 1820s. It is listed on the National Register of Places because of its architecture, and because it was built for Williams W. Alexander, son of an early hemp manufacturer who was later elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives. A distant relative of Alexander’s recently stopped by for a cup of coffee and told Tijou and Allen that the gilded mirror over the fireplace in the bakery had come from the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion.
The building had been purchased by a non-profit several years ago with the hopes of renovation, but the deal never came through. In 2015, Tijou heard it could be for sale. The women quickly wrangled a deal for less than $150,000.
In a sunny sitting room, John Ballengee enjoyed coffee and a scone. He’s a farmer, with a deep tan and a black tank top, nibbling on a scone from a china platter. He said he likes to come in to see what new decorating ideas they’ve employed. Allen will join him in a few minutes for a chat. But, he said, overall “they’ve created an island of tranquility,” he said. “You can leave all your worries at the door.”
Tijou and Allen did much of the work themselves, and black and white pictures from before the demolition show the scale of what changed. One of the first things you see when you walk in the shop, which had been divided into apartments, is the original woodwork that had been covered in paneling. A large floor-to-ceiling storage closet to the right of the fireplace in the bakery is one of the original treasures uncovered.
Tijou and Allen’s efforts were honored in May by the Kentucky Heritage Council with the Ida Lee Willis Award.
Business is good and operating in the black, although neither partner has drawn a salary yet, but Allen says they are close. It’s given them a chance to work together, create something that gives back to the community and find that something intangible that makes a life full and meaningful, Tijou said.
But they’ve been careful and frugal.
They don’t overbake or over produce too much lotion or soap. They will, however, make an extra batch of something if a customer makes a request in the small kitchen that is certified to make both cosmetics and baked goods.
And, by design, their bakery goods and soaps are only offered inside the Pleasanton Goods space, although they have a website. Tijou said that selling directly online might raise more money, but would hurt the overall experience of coming into the store where, by the way, they’re willing to work the phones to help out-of-town tourists find a good place for ribs for dinner where live music might be playing in Paris that evening or sit down for a chat with a neighbor.
They each light up when talking about the local products they promote, how they get local produce, even using eggs from Tijou’s farm in Allen’s blueberry scones. They source locally, getting goat milk from a 4-H, coffee from a local roaster (Cafe Marco) and jam from Peg’s Pantry . And, they said, in turn they get support from local people.
“We are really trying to build a sense of community,” Tijou said. “I’m not sure we would be able to do this anyplace else.”
If you go
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Coffee, baked goods, smoothies, scones and boutique.
Afternoon tea, $18 per person. Saturday tea, by reservation.
Grilled Cheese Fridays: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Gourmet Grilled Cheese and Tomato Bisque, $10.
Online: Pleasanton Goods