WATERFORD — Grab a Stewart’s Shops coffee. Read about witchcraft. Pick up a glazed doughnut-shaped pipe.
In a modest southern Saratoga County neighborhood, it’s possible.
“I don’t know if you saw it, but by the front door, there’s a sign that says ‘snacks and coffee from Stewart’s welcome,'” said Shaunty McMillin, co-owner of Golden Leaf Books.
McMillin, 34, and Allen DeJesus, 29, last month launched a Stewart’s plaza shop dedicated to witchcraft, feminism and marijuana products — along with rows and rows of books on all of the above — in the Northside neighborhood of Waterford.
There’s nothing like it in town.
“There is a smoke shop that just opened on Broad Street, but that seems to be a typical smoke shop,” McMillin said. “And so we’re targeting very different groups of people.”
She’s referring to femme adherents of witchcraft, a practice which includes paganistic, folk magic, Wiccan and New Age rituals. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of self-identified Wiccans and pagans jumped from 700,000 to 1.4 million, a jump researchers have tied to social media, feminism, entertainment and aversion to organized religion.
McMillin has been a marijuana advocate since her 20s and drifted from Mormonism to paganism in her teens.
Initially hoping to get a foot into the freshly legal weed market, sell wellness products geared towards women, and what she saw a void in the area’s retail literature market, the theme, for her, appeared to be a natural fit.
“We were looking at communities where it’s already stigmatized and why it was less stigmatized in those communities for women and also looking at all that research, we just found that witches love weed,” McMillin said with a laugh. “And I was kind of already there.”
Golden Leaf Books first went online in May, but profits began to dry up within a month’s time after Amazon seemingly started scooping up digital ad space.
Much of the company’s profits have come from brick and mortar traffic. In June, Golden Leaf began operating curated book racks out of retailers in Crossgates Mall, Troy and Cohoes.
“When we’re [at other locations], because I do actually go into those locations, we like to sit and chat with people on occasion,” McMillin said. “And we’ve made some of our friends that we’ve made since we got here.”
McMillin, her husband Wynn and DeJesus moved to Waterford from Sandy, Utah in the spring. The ex-Mormon couple, accompanied by DeJesus, had long waited for housing prices to fall in order to fulfill a dream of leaving the arid climate for greener pastures.
“It’s just so much better energy,” McMillin said about upstate New York.
DeJesus recalled seeing his business partner’s face “light up” while looking at the Hudson Valley for the first time and hearing Wynn, during a smoke break in the Windy City, baffled by his surroundings.
“He was talking about seeing so many trees and flowers like, ‘I never seen so much nature in my life,'” DeJesus recalled. “And I was like, ‘this is Chicago so you have no idea what’s waiting for you once you get to the Catskills.'”
New Jersey-born DeJesus had been welcomed to stay with the couple at the end of his own cross-country road trip during the COVID-19 pandemic. He knew Wynn through Xbox Live for about a decade and needed a place to stay at the time.
“It just all kind of fell together and we kind of let it,” said McMillen.
DeJesus embarked on the road trip two months after his job, managing a restaurant in Georgia, shuttered. Since then, he believes the cards have all fallen into place.
“I have the kind of skills that compliment her and you can look around to see she has an eye, right?” DeJesus said. “She’s not putting together the shelves, but it works really well. I got here by luck and chance.”
Now, he handles Golden Leaf Book’s sales floor throughout the week, while McMillen, a full project manager for Clearlink, handles administrative tasks and company flow. Wynn from time to time helps with digital operations.
The $80,000 start-up sitting in the former Saratoga Avenue liquor store is flush with locally-crafted candles, incense and art. Spanning the floor are rows and tables of literature ranging from cannabis cookbooks to psychology to social justice.
And there’s also “sexy” Ryan Reynolds-themed coloring book.
“We’re here to support women and we’re here to support wellness and if that’s what makes you happy and let you like zone out after a long day, why not?” McMillen said.
McMillen seeks out glassware that’s focused on “aesthetic” instead of “bro culture.” Pieces vary from a pretzel-shaped pipe to crystal-shaped bowls. Don’t expect Rick & Morty or Rastafarian-themed merchandise.
“We like Rick & Morty,” DeJesus said.
“But it isn’t exactly creating a welcoming environment to women in general,” McMillen interjected.
“You can get that anywhere.”
Golden Leaf Book’s is open at 30 Saratoga Avenue, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The shop is closed on Mondays.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TylerAMcNeil