Return home

Local businesswoman returns to restore signature staple of CNY’s style for decades

Tennille-Lynn Millo, Special to the Daily Sentinel
Posted 3/5/23

Four years have passed since Joette Swisher wrapped her final sparkle around Central New York.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Local businesswoman returns to restore signature staple of CNY’s style for decades


NEW HARTFORD — Four years have passed since Joette Swisher wrapped her final sparkle around Central New York. Her retirement and closure of Joette’s Gifts left a void visible in the bare earlobes, necks, and wrists she left behind. However, the days of hunting for the appropriate accessories have come to an end as Joette returns to New Hartford, ready to put the fun and excitement back into getting dressed up again.

“Retirement showed me the importance of socialization, creativity, and interaction. I’ve always been a creative person who puts my skills to use. But, when I had the freedom to discover what I wanted, I realized my art and creative expression were as imperative as my need to be around people,” Swisher stated. “I thought long and hard before reopening my business, but at the end of the day, my store was something I always enjoyed. So, I jumped in with both feet and am so happy to be here again.”

While Swisher became the area’s go-to for glamorous accessories, her career began in the bridal industry, where she wove bouquets of silk flowers and piped swirls of frosting around tiered cakes. Here, she developed an eye for detail as she pulled pedals, twisted stems, adhered gems to the bouquet’s handle, and strung jewels through its body so they’d twinkle as the bride walked down the aisle. As Joette worked to create distinct looks, she noticed how certain jewelry drew attention to different aspects of a gown, hairstyle, and facial features, so she invested in a few pieces, which she displayed on a small TV tray.

“People went wild. Brides, bridesmaids, and mothers of the bride and groom would pop over to see what I had and request different items to match their gowns. One holiday, I ordered a bunch of items and hosted a viewing party. I sold out in a day. I remember being inside my house and people knocking on my kitchen window to see if they could come inside to see what I had left and ask me when more items would be in.”

Swisher’s eye for jewelry molted into the opening of her first store on Belle Avenue in Utica. Overnight, her clientele expanded from its exclusive bridal focus to young women preparing for prom and women seeking statement pieces for special events. But it wasn’t the jewelry that made Swisher stand out; it was the way she studied her clients, noting the shape of their faces and the look of their dresses to choose pieces that would compliment the person and their ensemble.

“I didn’t just sell jewelry and accessories. I studied women and learned about their needs. I’d ask to see their dress to assess whether they needed an ornate piece, if they’d shine in pearls or diamonds, or if they needed nothing more than a single-strand necklace. I became so good at understanding what complimented women that I could detect the style they’d gravitate towards when they walked in the door.”

Swisher’s newfound businesses erupted, forcing her to relocate to a larger store in New Hartford almost as soon as she opened. Within two years, that space would expand again to make room for her inventory and clients, and she’d open stores in Syracuse and Rochester.

“I always prided myself in having different items. So many people thought that niche was unique to our area, but when I expanded, it proved my point that women want something different. They want to arrive at a party in something distinct that feels like them and acts as a statement. My pieces did that.”

Her career would flourish for many years before she made the difficult decision to retire.

“Managing all of those stores and inventory was a lot of work. I was ready to explore a new chapter in my life. I began rearranging my home, playing with paints and styles, cooking, and painting on canvas. It was so liberating, so freeing to create things simply because I wanted to. I hadn’t felt that in a long time.”

With a painting studio set up, and a cooking show that aired on Monday evenings through social media platforms, Swisher began to address the one thing her retirement and creativity did not provide over the past four years: socialization.

“I was enjoying my retirement and my creative time, but I was also looking for an outlet to share my paintings and the jewelry and accessories I still loved. When I mentioned I might be looking for a space, the owner of Gold Leaf reached out and invited me to use part of his store. It just seemed to come together.”

As you walk into Joette’s Gifts’ new home at 420 New Hartford Shopping Center, there’s a sense of comfort and familiarity. Joette’s bright smile and personality welcome you the instant you walk through the door. Glass shelves filled with necklaces, earrings, and her notorious purses line the wall. Yet, while large glittery necklaces and tiaras set to appease the bridal and prom industries continue to hold space, there’s a softer tone and texture as natural stone jewelry and everyday accessories gleam from the shelves.

“The jewelry market has changed over the years. Accessories have become less ostentatious and more natural. So while I’ll always hold space for statement pieces, I’m also going to reign in on the pieces that highlight women in their work, events, and everyday life.”

In true Joette fashion, accessories are woven throughout the store to make shopping an engaging experience. There’s movement as you scan the shelves, your eyes darting from one stand to the next as you take in pieces that flow into one another. Hand-painted cards cascade down the shelves, their protected cupcake and flower fronts ready to add a bit of personalization and meaning to the receiver, which complements Joette’s painting that hangs along the walls.

“I have people who just like to come in and look around. I enjoy watching where someone’s eyes direct them, what they touch and place against their skin, and what style attracts them. I’m always learning from people as they come in – even if it’s just to look.”

Aside from finding a place that welcomes socialization and creative conversation, Joette is hard at work drafting her first cookbook, which will be out this year.

“Cooking is another form of creativity that allows you to produce something with your hands. You begin with a few ingredients; in the end, you’ve made something beautiful that fills others with joy. I spent a lot of time experimenting, sampling, and writing down exact measurements for everything I made. I’m excited to share this part of my life with everyone.”

From canvas paintings and handmade cards to jewelry, purses, and the sweetest earrings, it’s intriguing to consider what 2023 has in store for Joette.

“I love life and all that it’s brought me. So I’m taking one day at a time and working to tap into all my creative angles to see where they take me next.”

For Central New York, that angle is right back into their hearts as they bare their wrist and necklines and wait for the joy and beauty Joette will fit them with once again.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here