The north end of Halsey Street just added another retail business to its growing roster of shops for every taste and need.
Meet Pooka Pure and Simple. The bath and body shop, launched and run full-time by entrepreneur and former graphic designer Dawn Fitch (and with help from her three partners: Donna Lynn, Tricia Akinwande, and April Mathis) sells handmade body products, including oils, body sprays, soaps, and scrubs.
The pleasingly fragrant, well-appointed store at 87 Halsey Street looks like something out of a Pier1 catalog, with baskets and stands displaying the shop’s custom fragrances.
Fitch herself is a friendly and gregarious owner, a useful trait since in addition to selling products, Pooka will also offer events and activities, including “Lunch Xpress Workshops”, where patrons can make their own scrubs and other products.
“I really want this to be an interactive experience,” she said, adding that she’ll create a kitchen setup in the shop’s window, where they’ll make scrubs and other daily specials from fresh ingredients. Interns from Rutgers University will engage with customers by handing out samples on Halsey Street.
Fitch plans for so much interactivity, in fact, that some of her customer engagement will take place well outside of the store. Pooka used to be located in Orange, at a retail space Fitch described as “beautiful, but there was way too little foot traffic.” When a realtor suggested she move to Newark, she hesitated. That is, until she visited Halsey Street and saw the new Prudential tower rising out of the ground. “I thought, maybe we do need to come to Newark,” she said with a chuckle.
But she was determined not to be satisfied with the built-in increase in foot traffic the move would bring. “I thought, ‘In order to maximize what we’re doing, we can’t wait. We’ve got to get in those buildings: into Prudential, into Blue Cross,'” she explained, describing some of the larger office buildings in the area. Fitch foresees offering workshops inside the companies, and will also be offering a “Gifts to Go” service targeted to professionals.
And for those customers who want to come to her, Fitch has been thoughtful about catering to the needs of the Halsey Street shopper: she’ll be offering curbside pickup services so customers don’t have to worry about parking. (Additionally, like other Halsey Street businesses, Pooka shoppers can also get free parking at nearby Edison parking lots.)
Penetrating nearby companies won’t be an unfamiliar task: Fitch actually grew her business in large part by taking her Pooka products to expos and companies, including Horizon Blue Cross downtown Newark.
She got her start 14 years ago in her kitchen, after a health scare motivated her to live a healthier lifestyle. A self-proclaimed “bath and body junky”, Fitch applied the same discerning eye to her bath product labels that she’d already started using with her food, and soon began creating bath products with natural ingredients after seeing what companies used in more common products. She used her graphic design skills to design a label for the products. The name “Pooka” derived from “Pookalitas”, a pet name from her mother.
Soon, her apartment became overrun with products, and her creations became so popular among her friends that they encouraged her to try selling them at the African American Festival at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel. Fitch figured she could kill two birds with one stone: “appease my friends, and sell enough stuff to buy shoes,” she said. But when she sold out of Pooka products, Fitch realized that she had a business.
“I like to say we started chasing the business,” she said. “It found me, and then it started running. I was the one who had to catch up.” Fitch was able to get her products into Whole Foods, but continued to bootstrap her business by vending all over the country. Her business acumen and social media savvy landed her and Pooka on the cover of Black Enterprise in 2012.
Now she’s bringing both her popular brand and thoughtful approach to business down to Halsey Street where, even with the temporary frustrations brought about by Prudential construction, there is a sense of activist business ownership and community. Fitch said she’s excited to be a part of it.
“It’s like a family down here,” she said. “I’m already at the point where I’m walking down the street and waving left and right.”
As if to prove her point, her business neighbor from Lenny’s Nutrition Center stopped in to give the shop a look a few minutes later. “Very nice,” he said with an impressed nod of approval.