Unique, locally-crafted items, seasoned with a generous helping of adult humor and vintage style, is proving to be a winning recipe for Valerie Deegan-Johnson, also known as Ruthie Sudsalot, owner of Jackass Charm Corner Store, 228 Benton St., in downtown Woodstock.
The shop, just off of the Woodstock Square, carries barware, pillows, T-shirts, mugs, candles, greeting cards and Deegan-Johnson’s signature line of hand- crafted soaps and beauty products, marketed under her Jackass Charm Soap label.
The angular space – which she nicknamed “The Wedgie” – emits a vintage vibe, from the 1940s music playing over the sound system to the three Art Deco barber stations that pay homage to the store’s past life as a barbershop.
But it’s the store’s original incarnation as a 1940s-era gift shop that convinced Deegan- Johnson that she’d opened her business in the absolutely perfect location.
“It’s like the store chose me,” she says.
A serendipitous turn – especially since she wasn’t planning to open a store at all.
In 2016, the retired hairstylist and massage therapist had turned her soap-making hobby into a business, Jackass Charm Soap. The name was inspired by her son, whom she says possesses both qualities. The products, which contain herbs and aromas to treat the conditions described on the packages, were inspired by her background in beauty and holistic health.
The cheeky, risqué product names came courtesy of the alcohol-fueled imaginings of several friends, and the 1940s motif was the perfect embodiment of the fledgling company’s spirit.
“The 1940s were innocent on the surface but have layers that are inappropriate and bad, which is a great representative of us,” she says
She began to market her soaps at fairs and shows dressed as sassy 1940s housewife Ruthie Sudsalot, captivating customers with her products, sense of humor and style.
In early 2018, when an area candle-maker thought she should manage a storefront selling his candles and her soaps, she agreed. Later on, he changed his mind, but he encouraged Deegan-Johnson to dive in on her own.
“He told me I could do whatever I liked with the space and handed me the keys,” she says.
For the next month, she and her husband, Rich, a carpenter, worked to restore the interior, which included cleaning the barber stations, building shelves and even uncovering a bit of decorative metal that had been covered with paneling.
They also learned that in 1947, the store had been the Weathervane, a gift shop owned by siblings Kay and George McLellan, which sold cocktail stirs, chocolates, soap and – according to a period newspaper article – “dainty tea towels.”
Reading about the Weathervane gave her chills, she says, adding, “We sell tea towels, too, only ours ain’t dainty!”
Though open since May, Jackass Charm Corner Store will hold its official Grand Opening on Oct. 10, in honor of the Weathervane, which opened Oct. 10, 1947.
Deegan-Johnson is continuing to add consignment vendors, and encourages anyone with locally- made humorous gift items to reach out.
She also wants to learn more about the McLellans, the Weathervane and, most of all, loves meeting new customers.
“I’m having so much fun, and am incredibly proud,” she says.