A glowing Shalea Walker at her spa.
Nestled on a quiet block near Jersey City’s Grove Street Path Station, Walker’s Apothecary is a “beauty haven designed to relax and enlighten.” I went recently to visit the visionary proprietor Shalea Walker and marveled over her radiant skin as a nail technician completed her manicure. We spoke of fragrance, of travel, the brilliance of Michel Gondry and the moody melifluence of Sia Furler. Celebrating her seventh year of business this Spring, she and I met, however years ago while she worked for Harriette Cole’s Profundities, Inc. She recalled securing the interview for the position: “Darin (her friend and Profundities staffer) hooked me up.” At the time she worked in accounts payable at a hospital by day and an Ethiopian restaurant at night. Her lack of experience in media made her family caution her not to get her hopes up. But “Harriette saw my eagerness and willingness,” she says. “Some core things about us were the same: the love of apothecary preparations, a sense of spirituality, journaling…and we’re both Pisces.” She credits Harriette for showing her that “big things can be created from very small things and that big business turns to small businesses to execute its needs.”
Her road to entrepreneurship started with an early love of fragrance and skin care. Mississippian Tommie Walker and his Ecuadorian/Irish wife Celia Duffy raised their 3 children “all over Brooklyn–Brownsville, East New York, Canarsie…” Their middle child, Shalea, drawn to her father’s smells started wearing his Brut deodorant and Polo cologne at age 4. By seven, she was “obsessed with soap,” she says. “I’d sit in the bathtub and would rub the Tone beauty bar onto my skin in a thick layer.” She was a fastidious child, “very particular,” about her appearance. She had “her own way of doing things,” she was no schoolyard clone. She wore only Candies sneakers and her seamstress mom made all her clothes. “My mom can re-upholster a chair, make window treatments…she’s a creator. She’s not interested in making dinner every night, she thinks of bigger things.” When adolescent acne reared its unfortunate head it was mom who introduced Shalea to renowned natural skin care specialists, Christine Valmy “for extractions on my nose.”
The attentive care to skin wellness was established in childhood but the germ of an idea for what would become Walker’s Apothecary was a journal entry when she was twenty or twenty-one: “I want to open my own place. It’ll carry teas, skin care products.” Her mother’s daughter, she thought of “bigger things.” She worked for an IT company to save for beauty school, but was laid off two years later in the aftermath of the dot-com bust. The timing was perfect, she’d felt nervous about being out-of-the-loop during the “corporate years.” She returned to Christine Valmy to study and become a licensed esthetician. Though she’d done makeup for years– herself and others, she finally admitted to herself that she was a makeup artist after doing the makeup for a photo shoot. She soon did the makeup for a feature on a woman with a Jersey City candle shop. She left thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be great if she didn’t want the business anymore and would sell it to me. I could have my own business by 26.’ She called her brother Tommie and shared her Piscean fantasy. “Keep dreaming, that’s never gonna happen,” he said. She convinced him to visit the shop with her and when they walked in the proprietor said, “Hi Shalea, I’m selling the shop, you are the first person I’m telling.” So with $5000 from the corporate gig 401k, she realized a dream.
An affirming tattoo.
In the charming 185 square-foot Warren Street space, she launched Walker’s Apothecary in 2004, carrying candles, teas, body oils and perfumes. A stone’s throw from my cousin’s home, I’d visit the shop whenever I visited him. There was always some new delight to savor. Soon clients began to ask if she would offer services. “They begged me to do it,” she says. So she set up an eyebrow grooming station in the tiny space. “Eyebrows changed the business, it was a segue into other things.” While her shop was growing, so too was a freelance career as a makeup artist, working with beauty expert/entrepreneur Andrea Fairweather Bailey’s Fairweather Faces. The late Eric Spearman had been the makeup artist to singer Dianne Reeves and upon his passing she didn’t work with an artist until Shalea came along to a shoot at the Thompson Hotel. From working with Reeves to interior designer Sheila Bridges on her television show to creating the signature look for Little Mama, she juggled servicing makeup clients with serving Apothecary customers.
A 2006 feature on Shalea in Black Enterprise. CD covers for Dianne Reeves and Lil Mama.
When Shalea’s friend Ruth shuttered her Mercer Street vintage shop, Shalea seized the opportunity to increase her square footage five-fold and secured the space. She was finally able to offer all the spa services Apothecary clients were clamoring for: facials, nail care, waxing, massage, makeup application, even ear candling. And of course eyebrow styling. (She groomed mine to perfection while I was there.)
Stations for makeup application and nail care.
“I had a vision of a business making people’s lives better. It’s come into fruition and evolves as needed,” she says. The evolution of the business has led to her to develop an in-house, paraben-free, product line. “I wanted to create great product at a great price.” The four face care products, when used sequentially provide at-home treatment akin to a spa facial. The gentle Marine Enzyme Peel draws out impurities, exfoliates and stimulates circulation. The humectant-rich Chamomile Soothing Gel hydrates and soothes. The Green Coffee Moisture Masque deeply moisturizes and softens skin and fine lines. The ultra-hydrating Super Moisturizing Serum delivers anti-oxidants and botanicals to protect and nourish the skin. I’ve tried them all, it is a great system, but my absolute favorite is the soothing gel, it feels wonderful! My skin breathed a blissful, “Ahhh…” Though each product is individually sold, Shalea smartly introduced a trial-sized sampler kit.
The Facial-to-Go Sample Set got me hooked, I’ll be back for more.
The body care line consists of light body oils and emollient lotions, each infused with synergistic blends of botanical essences.
Walker’s Custom Blend Body Oil and Body Lotion
She’s a student of global skin care practices, traveling to a different country each year to “explore the skin care culture” of each region. She’s discovered that the French embrace technological advances; in Germany “stringent” use of natural ingredients is followed and in Greece, they use mastic gums. Her research informs the development of her products. At Walker’s Apothecary, she wants to create “an experience, a discovery” for her clients and “now that we have our own products, people can take a bit of us home.”
We took our interview upstairs to her home above the spa to check out some of her favorite things…
1. My Couch. She found a pretty yellow and cream récamier in need of a little TLC at a Salvation Army store. “I paid $60 for it, thinking I’m gonna get it upholstered one day.” To complement her spa decor and withstand heavy use, she had it revamped in durable silver and grey vinyl.
This bit of vintage glam now resides in her living room.
2. Fragrance Collection. An “indulgent, decadent luxury,” her growing collection of scents is an “obsession. I can forfeit a pair of shoes, but not my perfume.”
In current rotation: Susanne Lang Tamboti Wood; Pierre Bourdon Iris Poudre, Frederic Malle; Beth Nonte Russell Forever Lily; by Kilian Back to Black Aphrodisiac; Tom Ford Black Orchid; Guerlain Elixir Charnel; Sarah Horowitz Perfect Kiss; Jo Malone French Lime Blossom and Kiehl’s Forest Rain.
3. Journals. Journaling since she was twelve, she keeps them on hand, buying them by the stack.
Among her collection, recycled leather journals from Florentine company, Ciak. Available through JournalingArts.com
4. Turkish Earrings. She doesn’t do a lot of accessorizing, but she likes the melding of gold and silver, the fringe detail and the manageable size of the gift from her boyfriend.
Her sweetie picked up the fringed lion cabochons during his travels to Turkey.
5. Montauk, Off-season. “It’s so laid back. April, early May no one is on the beach, and even if other folks are there it is like your own private beach. I just drink champagne, sit on the beach and relax into the view.”
Montauk Lighthouse Sunrise, © All rights reserved, Oldsamovar.
6. Hard Cheeses. She loves the dryness; the texture of an aged Parmesan, the nuttiness of a Manchego.
Queso Manchego from La Mancha, Spain is one of the hard ripened cheeses available at The Cheese Store in Hoboken, NJ, just ten minutes away.
7. Karen Oh. “I saw her perform [with her band Yeah Yeah Yeahs] at Liberty State Park, her energy was so live!”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs perform “Heads Will Roll. “
8.Hôtel de Ville. Also known as Le Marais, Paris’ fourth arrondissement was her stomping ground during a one-month visit to the City of Light. She enjoyed the melange of Old Paris and what she’s dubbed “New Age” Paris with its eclectic mix of bistros and boutiques.
Hôtel de Ville, the City Hall from which the area derives its name. Photo: Trey Ratcliff.
9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. “Kate, the somberness of the music, I loved it.”
The official film trailer.
10. Helen Julia Soft Mink Candle. As a purveyor of fragrant goodies, Shalea has certainly tested her share of aromatic candles. She ranks the bold rose/geranium scent from the Helen Julia line of hand-poured soy candles among her favorites.
Soft Mink, one of several aromatic blends created with love by Tamiko Hargrove for HelenJulia Fragranced Candles. Each candle is packaged in an elegant velvet pouch.