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New store is a work of art in Lewiston

John Caputo's new store -- featuring photos, soaps, paintings and other wares made by local artists -- sits in the historic "Little Yellow House." It's one of a pleasing number of new enterprises to open recently in the village business district.

"Pretty much every month there's been something new popping up," said Jennifer Pauly, president of the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce. With its opening earlier this month, Caputo's Little Yellow Artisan House quickly replaced the previous tenant: the Little Yellow Chocolate House.

Pauly was sad to see the confectioner go from the house built in 1816. But, she said, "It was great that the village was able to quickly get another business that wanted to take a chance."

Other recently opened Center Street businesses include a new bar, Hops n Vines at 490 Center; Trusello's Pizzeria, at 742; and Lewiston Music, at the corner of Fourth Street.

Pauly thinks two factors may be attracting entrepreneurs, besides Lewiston's quaint walking district appeal and its popular nearby attractions: coaching from Niagara County Community College's Small Business Development Center and the local advertising campaign that encourages people to go on nearby travel adventures.

"I think people are just looking for things to do closer to home," she said.

A Canadian originally, Caputo is now an American citizen. He moved to Lewiston because his wife, Wendy, a local native, wanted to be closer to her family after the couple's daughters were born. They have four -- Jennifer, 24; twins Caitlin and Courtney, 21; and Jessica, 20.

In the few weeks that the shop has been open, with his daughter Jessica as manager, Caputo has been surprised by how quickly the jewelry he makes has been selling out.

"The store's doing better than I anticipated," he said of jewelry that ranges from $6 earrings to a $300 ruby necklace. "Sometimes they're gone within a couple days."

You are special projects manager for the Niagara Falls tourist service business "One Niagara." Yet much of your career was in the electronics business, managing stores in Canada. When sales went well in the 1980s, you were rewarded with foreign trips. How does that connect to your wire-wrapped jewelry?

I was in Colombia. Were were down in Cartegena. I was there on this electronics trip, on a vacation. We were at the Hilton. We were on along this beach. It's poor. There were police with machine guns. A strange trip. This one day, I started to get restless. So me and my friend ventured out. We went to go see local shops. We stopped in a jewelry store. In the back, you could see the guy with the grinding wheel actually grinding the emerald gemstones. They were just like octagon little cylinders. Pale green crystal. Almost an inch long. So I purchased some of them, unfinished. He gave me a handful for $50. I liked them so much. They were like souvenirs at the time. They just sat for a few years. Then, about 10 years or so ago, I started wrapping them in silver wire. I wanted to do something with them. They were just sitting there. They're emeralds, and they're half cut and half finished, and I still have a few of them.

At first you wrapped your emeralds in wire to make necklaces for your daughters. You think it was one of the twins who got the first?

She wore it for the first week or two without taking it off. Now they want more. Jessica asked me for an ankle bracelet. They just like it. It's something that their father made. They're one-of-a-kind pieces.

From there, you bought more jewelry-making ingredients and tried selling at a jazz festival three summers ago.

I had so many gemstones and settings, I turned around and set up a table. I couldn't believe the response. Phenomenal. People were asking for different gemstones. I realized there was a market. I started looking for a store front. I saw the Little Yellow House. I took the rent sign out of the window, and that was it. It doesn't get any better than this. It's right down in the heart of Lewiston. So I made my daughter the manager and opened it, and all a sudden I found a lot of people wanting to put their products in. A lot of them approached me. Some of them I knew from the show. It reminds me of Mayberry, the Village of Lewiston.

Can you talk about some of the other things you sell? Lilac and creme brulee?

It's soap that smells like food. The soaps are very unique.

You have commissioned a line of jams from local fruit. Do you have a favorite?

It's apple jam that tastes like apple pie.

Describe one of the abstract photos that you like and are selling by artist Brenda Molloy.

It looks like silver that's gone into liquid. It flows. It swirls. It's very engulfing. You turn around and look at the art, and you get lost in it.

You now teach a class about making jewelry from wire-wrapped stones at Niagara University. How did you learn?

I started searching the Internet. You start researching gemstones. You start doing some looking at wire wrapping. It's been around for thousands of years. I'd look up things and say, 'Geez. How'd they do that?' And tried it until I did it. You know, you start searching the Web and one thing leads to another and another.

Know a Niagara County resident who'd make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Scott Scanlon, Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail niagaranews@buffnews.com