MADISON — Located in a little clapboard cottage next door to the fire station, bellaPerlina has been a downtown landmark for 17 years — part chic boutique, part workshop and part gathering spot.
Now, after years of designing and selling handmade jewelry at this Main Street store, Owner Andrea Panullo will pack up her beads and close up shop in mid-August.
“People often just come in to visit,” the 64-year-old says. “There’s people that I’ve met on the street, from seeing Bella (her dog), gentleman that come in. They come in and say ‘hello.’ I’ve always made people feel welcome here.”
Bella, a miniature Labrador-poodle mix, has been a constant fixture in the store, greeting customers with a wag of her tail and keeping Panullo company as she designs jewelry.
Bella joined the family 10 years ago, specifically as a “shop dog.” Panullo recalls working with the breeder to get a dog with just the right temperament.
She recalls the breeder saying, “we observe the puppies and I know that she’s going to be a shop dog, so we’re going to observe for the most mellow of them in the litter and that will be your dog.”
In addition to a greeting from Bella, customers have become accustomed to Panullo’s effervescent personality, who embraces nearly everyone who walks through door, with a welcome hug.
In her farewell missive she acknowledges this.
“Under normal circumstances, I would have a huge farewell party at the shop,” she writes. “This can’t happen yet. So please stop in for a ‘virtual’ hug.”
For Guilford customer Miggs Surgenor, this is something she has in common with her friend.
“I’m also a hugger, so we had a real challenge last time I saw her,” she says, about a visit recently, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Janice Briguglio, co-owner for Ciao Bella, across the street, says they will miss Panullo’s enthusiasm.
“She’s been a champion for small business and the community,” Briguglio says.
“Her philanthropy to little organizations and big is really something to be admired. Her enthusiasm and her smile are contagious. She’s going to very missed.”
Panullo’s interest in jewelry making harkens to her days as the school nurse at Madison’s former Academy Elementary School. It was during this time that she took a course on hand knotting pearl necklaces.
“Then I just started making jewelry for my friends,” Panullo says. “It just got bigger and bigger.”
Her business started as a cottage industry, both literally and figuratively. Working out of her little cottage at her Madison home, Panullo created jewelry and held events a couple times a year.
Surgenor is a customer whose loyalty stretches back to those years. This Guilford resident’s collection includes necklaces, earrings and bracelets for business and fun occasions.
Unique and beautiful is how she describes bellaPerlina jewelry.
“I think some of what I love is that Andrea would make pieces for me or when she made something she’d say, ‘I think you will love this,’ and I always did,” says Surgenor.
After a year creating at home, Panullo moved downtown and bellaPerlina was born.
The inviting store, with prominent seasonal decorations, makes a statement year-round.
Summer means cheery blooming flowers in the window boxes, topiaries outside the entrance. Then there are the fern green beach chairs, just waiting for someone to sit and enjoy the comings and goings of downtown.
Panullo weaves the same theme through the front door, where visitors are welcomed by an overflowing flower arrangement on the table in the center of the store.
Surrounding the display are her custom jewelry pieces created on-site, with freshwater pearls, aquamarine, sterling silver, coral, citrine, onyx, peridot, strawberry quartz, Murano beads, vintage beads, repurposed beads, Amazonite, Swarovski crystals and turquoise.
Panullo describes her creations as bohemian, whimsical. She enjoys working with brides to design keepsake items and works on these projects for about a dozen betrothed a year.
About 50 percent of her work is custom.
Yet, she stresses, nothing she makes is traditional.
“I do do some traditional, but it’s a twist on traditional,” she says. “If they want traditional, they can go to a jewelry store to buy traditional.”
In addition, Panullo explains that recreating statement pieces out of old or outdated jewelry is something that she enjoys doing and is called upon to do often. This is exactly how she got started back in 2002.
“I started by people bringing in their old jewelry, their mother’s necklaces, their grandmother’s pearls,” she says. “A lot of it was broken and then reinventing it, so they would wear it again. It’s nice to repurpose, because we should repurpose.
“I like to work with gemstones and pearls. Everyone loves the crystals so I always incorporate them for a little sparkle.”
Kristy Simmons, who started out as a customer and worked her way into a part-time sales position, has been a devotee since the store opened.
“I have a ton of her stuff,” the Clinton resident says. “I have jewelry that she’s made specifically for me; I’ve bought things off the rack, also I’ve brought things into her, like old jewelry, that she’s redone for me and made into new, more modern pieces.”
Customers say Panullo is famous for dumping a pile of beads onto her worktable and creating beautiful pieces, sometimes spending up to eight hours on one necklace.
“It’s amazing,” says Beth Jessey, who has worked alongside Panullo for the last 13 years. “She throws the beads down and just creates. It’s absolutely incredible to watch.”
Ask Panullo where she gets her inspiration and she answer, simply, “my head.”
About six years ago, this shopkeeper started adding clothing, leather goods and some additional jewelry made by others.
“It was simple because, ‘How much bellaPerlina can people buy?’ ” she ponders. “I love the idea of handbags and scarves and belts to complement it.”
It was just this look that Panullo exhibited during out visit. Donning an orange maxi dress, this fashionista accented with a “kitchen sink,” multi-strand necklace made from a multitude of stones in an assortment of colors. She topped off the look with five bracelets of different colors and textures.
Jane Farrington owns many unique bellaPerlina pieces and has also worked with Panullo over the years on nonprofit endeavors.
“I do a fair amount of charitable work and Andrea donated everything that I ever asked her to donate to,” the Branford resident says. “Just so kind.”
Panullo says that she would never be comfortable having a store event without earmarking some profits for a nonprofit organization.
“I could never do it just to make money,” she says.
Over the years, she has contributed money to Camp Rising Sun, New Reach, Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation and the Madison Volunteer Ambulance Corps, among others.
It is Panullo’s plan to keep making jewelry and stay involved in the community she calls home with her husband, Dr. Wayne Panullo, and where she raised her three daughters, Dani, 33; Chrissy, 31; and Frankie, 28.
“I feel I have been blessed my whole life and it isn’t right if I don’t give back,” she says. “I am going to miss seeing the people and being part of this downtown community, but I am going to stay active. When I retire, I want to give back.”
Her plan is to work closely with Mary Stryker, owner of Junk-2-Junque, behind bellaPerlina.
“I am going to be in charge of doing special events that are always fundraisers, that are always for something or someone else,” she says.
For Farrington, coming to Madison won’t be the same without bellaPerlina.
“It was just a staple of main street in Madison,” she says. “It’s going to be sad to drive past the little cottage and not have it there.”