It's a point of pride for Julie Ter Borg that every item in her store, Julie Ellyn Designs: Handmade on Main, is indeed individually crafted.
Her own line of original sterling silver, gold-filled and precious gemstone jewelry is front and center in the store, which opened last fall on downtown Bel Air's Main Street. She also created space for two-dozen pop-up shops that feature rotating collections from independent jewelry makers, photographers, fiber artists, woodworkers and decorative painters who typically sell online or at events.
"I know it sounds sappy but, to me, handmade says 'love,'" says Ter Borg, who traces her passion for handcrafted items to a childhood spent on her family's farm, located just northeast of Bel Air. "I spent summers with my grandmother, who taught me to sew. We went crabbing and fishing, and I made things out of shells. I lived a handmade life, not out of necessity but with just a love of nature."
Ter Borg, 41, spent the first two decades of her career as a health scientist for government agencies while moonlighting as an online jewelry artist.
"I've been making jewelry since grad school," she says. "It has always been a stress reliever for me."
As online business blossomed, her husband encouraged a career change and helped lay the groundwork to add a hometown retail store to her virtual one. Inside the 2,500-square-foot, French-inspired boutique, she also offers custom jewelry making, children's birthday parties and girls' night out parties, along with jewelry making and other classes.
Ter Borg likes to give customers, especially new ones, a quick tour. Charlie, a gentle black Labrador rescue, doubles as "official shop greeter" and Ter Borg's shadow.
Once occupied by offices, the space is now fille with natural light, and unfussy displays made of metal, glass and burlap highlight the lines of sterling and gemstone earrings, pendants and bracelets.
This jewelry, which ranges in price from about $20 to $82, has several claims to fame. Ever since actress Nina Dobrev wore Ter Borg's signature leather-and-gemstone cuff bracelet in two episodes of "Vampire Diaries," she's stayed just ahead of the demand for the piece. Trista Sutter, the lead in the first season of "The Bachelorette," wore Ter Borg's original Florence earrings, an ornate filigree circle design, on the cover of her first book. And Ter Borg's jewelry has also been seen on shows such as "Jane the Virgin," "Cedar Cove" and "The Hart of Dixie."
Ter Borg credits her national recognition to her membership in the Artisan Group, a Hollywood-based collective that aims to introduce celebrities to the handcrafted movement.
The 20 or so rotating pop-up spaces fill the rear of Julie Ellyn Designs. Ter Borg wanted to help her virtual colleagues showcase their merchandise in a retail setting.
Libby Vreeland, an online merchant who fashions collages of blue crabs with bottle caps, says sales have topped 100 since showing samples of her work in Julie Ellyn Designs and in the nearby Harford Artists Gallery.
"A lot of people who want to shop on the Internet might be worried about where their money is going and if it is secure. For me, having a presence in a store lends a sense of legitimacy," says Vreeland.
Cylene Rainville, a Canadian metal smith, says Ter Borg has built camaraderie among artists who often work solo.
"We've never met in real life, but Julie has fostered a sense of community among artisans in the store," Rainville says. "She is also an inspiratory [person], a motivator and a cheerleader. That's what is helping her be so successful."