Bennie and Coco Surf Co.
Photo by Andrea Dapkus
Why the name and how did you get involved?
Vicki Barclay: Bennie and Coco Surf Co. opened four years ago in Charleston by my friend Katie Poole. The name is a play on her parents’ and grandparents’ last names and is a nod to who and from whom she is. Deciding to open my own version of her vision evolved naturally over the four years when late night hypotheticals between friends moved to daytime business conversations. As a consumer I knew most of what I loved from Katie’s shop wasn’t available here, so when we looked more seriously and the pieces started falling in place, it was a no-brainer for me. I’m honored that Katie trusted my vision for the Birmingham shop enough to let me use what she has built and join her in expanding the Bennie and Coco brand.
Why a surf shop in the middle of Mountain Brook?”
VB: Well, it’s a high-end surf shop in the sense it reflects more of a lifestyle than actual surfing gear; it’s for those of us that constantly feel the pull of the water and a more casual way of life. From nice dresses to trucker hats, we aim to fill the shop with beautiful and thoughtfully made pieces that we personally love and would wear or use; I hope anyone walking in will find a casual vibe, good music, easy company, and something new and badass to take with her (or him).
Why Mountain Brook Village?
We considered all the villages, but the actual store space in Mountain Brook Village seemed like the best fit for our vision. I also love that there are so many other shops and that it’s a shopping destination for people in and out of Mountain Brook.
What age group?
VB: I’d like to think I have something for any age! I have a few children’s styles, I’ve sold some kaftans to a few women in their 80s, and I have men walking around in our hats.
Do you get more visitors from Mountain Brook or outside MB?
I’ve had a nice mix of people from all over Birmingham, and we catch a lot of people staying at Grand Bohemian, but MB locals have definitely come and shown their support and make up the majority of traffic.
‘Happy Bee’ Jewelry
By Jim Hannaford
Photos by Stephen Anderson
At first, it’s her inventive and unusual jewelry that captivates people at art shows and festivals along the Eastern Shore. But it’s often Giulia Sciutto’s warm and inviting smile that seals the deal. “It’s like a circle,” Giulia says in her halting speech that’s heavily Italian. “I smile because they appreciate my work, and then they see my smile, and it makes them smile even more.”
Like the artist herself, her line of contemporary jewelry is stylish but not ostentatious. Using a few simple tools and lots of imagination, she uses wire—mostly aluminum but sometimes copper—to create eye-catching earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. No two pieces are exactly alike, of course, and some of them feature colorful beads or semiprecious stones. The women who love her casually elegant pieces say they are comfortable to wear because they’re so lightweight. They are also durable and pliable, don’t tarnish, and are easy to clean. They’re affordable too, many falling into a $20 to $70 range.
For most of her life she hadn’t given much thought to the idea of crafting jewelry, even though her mother and grandfather were highly skilled in the art. She found life-changing inspiration in 2018 in her hometown of Genoa, Italy, as she was visiting her mother, Angela, in the hospital just before she passed away. Giulia had gone for a stroll downtown while her mother was resting. “I was window-shopping, and there was this little boutique,” she says. “They had aluminum jewelry, and it was of very good taste. I bought a few things, but the ones that I really liked were too expensive for my pocket. So when I came back to the United States, I bought some wire right away and made jewelry for myself.”
From the start, her pieces were big and bold and out of the ordinary. “Other people would see them and say, ‘Wow, did you buy that in Italy?’ I’d say, ‘No, I made it,’ and they would say, ‘Can you make one for me?’”
The circle had begun. This was five years ago, which was almost exactly 20 years after she and her husband, Rinaldo Boccardo, had come to America because he had a job waiting for him in the steel industry.
Her workshop, or studio, is in a spare bedroom of their spacious home in east Daphne. She works for long stretches, often listening to true-crime podcasts through headphones and under the watchful eyes of their three rescue dogs, Daisy, Roo, and Mahbelle. “I call myself “Happy Bee” because it’s my happy place when I’m making jewelry,” she explains, “and the bee part of it is because I’m very busy. When I am working on my jewelry, all my problems seem to disappear.”
If there’s a common element to Giulia’s distinctive jewelry pieces, it’s lots of curves and a notable absence of straight lines. She uses needle-nose pliers to achieve those graceful bends and a small hammer to tamp out flattened patterns for contrasting angles and textures. Her swift but deliberate technique seems to follow a natural flow that she envisions almost instantly when she picks up a strand of wire.
A few more smiles at a time, she has a devoted following that keeps growing through word of mouth and her many public appearances. She has jewelry for sale permanently at the Foley Art Center, and she promotes it on happybeejewelry.com.
Photo by Brit Huckabay
How long have you been around?
LR: I opened A’Mano in MB Village just down from Western Supermarket (remember them?) on March 17, 1998. Next year will be 25 years, so get ready for a big celebration!
Where did the name come from and what inspired you to open A’Mano?
LR: The name means “By Hand” in Italian. I grew up in Nashville and was a Finance major at Auburn (I also took Art History classes.) I then got an MBA in Finance at Vanderbilt where I met my husband and moved to Birmingham. I worked in corporate lending for a major bank here and was a docent at the Birmingham Museum of Art. I loved to visit art galleries and the museum and started talking about my dream to open a gallery or shop that sold unusual art pieces. My husband is a serial entrepreneur, so his reaction was, “Well then, do it!” This was a bit of a shock to me, a conservative banker, but, with his support, I made the leap.
How has the Lane Parke location turned out?
LR: It’s turned out great! I am so happy to be here and could not be more excited about the opening of Phase 2. I think that it is going to be a wonderful addition to Mountain Brook Village.
Where do you find your curated items and is choosing them the most enjoyable thing about having a shop?
LR: I am always on the hunt for something new and different. I go to the traditional markets, but I also research items that I see online or in magazines. I also love to travel and am always checking out what shops in other cities are carrying. The most enjoyable part of A’Mano for me are my employees. Everyone who works at A’Mano is like family, and they are the hardest working people that I know.
In the last 25 years what would you say has changed the most about your business?
LR: A’Mano is an evolving place. It has grown as I have grown and my tastes have changed and matured. I really try to keep up and stay ahead of trends so that customers have a new experience and find new items each time that they visit. The A’Mano today is very different from the A’Mano of 1997, but so am I!