Sisters Tanya Willock and Temidra Willock-Morsch hadn’t always planned to open a home decor store in Southampton — not exactly. Yet for the founders of Hidden Gem, their bright boutique nestled in the New York beach village, it still sort of seemed like it was meant to be when they finally did in the spring of 2019. That’s not only because of its seemingly fortuitous beginnings, though that was certainly a factor; as it happens, the duo tells TZR over the phone that they found the perfect space for Hidden Gem and signed the lease within the span of about two months. Rather, it was sort of in their blood — something they said took them a while to fully realize.
“Our grandma pretty much showed us the path of being creative and entrepreneurial at a young age,” Temidra recalls of their East Hampton upbringing. “She would teach us how to crochet and weave and knit, and then we would sell her goods in the yard. It's so interesting, because Tanya and I didn't really make that connection until we started doing interviews [with the press]. And then we were like, wait a minute — this thing that was a cherished memory from our childhood basically set up our careers.”
Their inherited artistic and business acumen didn’t lead them directly to Hidden Gem, but it did set them on the path there early on. Both cite their initial high school years as the time they realized their interest in interiors, though that transpired in different ways. For Tanya, it was during a quest to create a personal space that spoke to her; for Temidra, it was from finding a deep love of textiles.
Both of these realizations took the sisters on a circuitous journey of discovery — and it was during that time that something clicked. “It wasn't until we both became adults and started moving toward our own careers that we realized that wanting to start a store that was something we always wanted to do but kind of forgot about halfway through high school,” explains Tanya. Fortunately, those epiphanies seemed to come about at the exact same time.
“I had started my own textile design company and Tanya had just wrapped up a job managing a gallery,” Temidra says of the store’s genesis. “I was thinking, What's the next step for me? I'm such a creative person; I can't sit too long in the same thing, and I think Tanya was in the same position.”
They wasted no time, as Temidra succinctly explains. “I was like, Hey Tanya want to open a store? She was like, Yeah!” she recalls. “This was in December. We happened to find the perfect space for us, and that January we signed the lease.” It was a whirlwind, as you can imagine. As the sisters explain it, they then immediately took off on a family trip for the entire month of January. “It was like, sign the lease, get on a plane,” jokes Temidra.
That said, they didn’t let distance stop them from getting started on the Southampton location. Before they even returned, the new owners began tapping into their network of artists and friends, asking if they’d send products to sell and consign in the store. And when they returned in February, they immediately started on renovations — which the founders ambitiously undertook themselves. “We watched a lot of HGTV shows!” laughs Temidra.
When they opened in the spring of 2019 shortly thereafter, the positive reception to the eclectic, colorful assortment was instantaneous. “People were like, Whoa! I feel like I'm on vacation,” says Temidra. “People that come into our store get what we're doing, and it's so nice to hear them say, Ah, I see what the vibe is here. It's really cool for them to make that connection.”
That “vibe,” according to the sisters, was distinctly different from the beach town’s typical aesthetic. “The Hamptons has a very specific look. Which is not us,” explains Temidra. “And we [were] like, let's shake it up a little bit and put our twist on what we think is a Hamptons-meets-Caribbean vibe. I feel like there are people out here that want that and need that.”
They achieved that, they say, by ensuring their Antiguan heritage was represented in the store. “I've always found a lot of inspiration in connection to the environment of Antigua,” shares Tanya. “[In the store,] we wanted to kind of recreate the feeling that we got when we would visit our family. There's always great food, a lot of music, and bright colors and patterns, and we wanted to use that to help create the overall vibe of our space.”
Of course, this wasn’t the only goal the Hidden Gem founders had in mind when starting the store — nor the only detail that sets it apart. As artists, the sisters say they had firsthand experience struggling to get their work seen and represented; at the same time, they were seeing friends go through a similar thing. Hidden Gem provided a way to change that for themselves and others.
“We were like, let's take that upon ourselves to be able to represent those artists that don't get the chance,” recalls Temidra. “Being young women that are Black, it's really hard to get a foot into the door, and I think that's what was driving us to give other people the opportunity.” Tanya echoes this. “We know how hard it is to try to get someone to look at your work and see any form of potential or just your capabilities as an artist. I wanted to be the kind of person that says, Yeah! I will come look at your work, and to get to know you as an artist and as a person.”
A little over two years later, they’re still doing just that. Tanya and Temidra keep a constantly rotating selection of products stocked in their store — intermingled with a few crowd-favorites, such as the bohemian bracelets and surfboard artwork — by the founders themselves and a range of artisans that Temidra says she just seems to find naturally. (“Tanya says all the time, I don't know how you find these people!,” Temidra jokes. “And I'm like, I don't know either! It just kind of happens.”)
And they plan to continue, working alongside each other as family (which they both say they really do enjoy), creating and finding new artwork and collaborations (of which they have an exciting new one coming up with a local crocheter), and selling a selection of their offerings online. However, they note, don’t expect any moves toward permanent physical expansion. As of now, at least, their first store location is set to stay a true, well, hidden gem. “I think the one in the Hamptons is going to be the sole one. We just love that store so much. We say it all the time: It's home.”
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