Firefighter. Ballerina. Doctor. All of these are typical answers to one of the most common questions that adults ask children: What do you want to be when you grow up? For Sturgeon Bay jeweler Melanie Wahlen, the more apt question would have been, Where do you want to be? For her, the answer has always been clear and consistent.
“Third Avenue is so special to me. Even when I was a kid, we got to go into the stores, and I remember it being quaint and romantic, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew where I wanted to end up,” Wahlen said.
Since 2012, she’s been making jewelry from salvaged materials, first as a hobby and a little later as a full-fledged job. On Feb. 1, Wahlen opened Reclaimed & Co. Jewelry at 41 N. 3rd Ave. in Sturgeon Bay, inside the Park Place Mall. She was in her previous location on Jefferson Street for about a year.
Wahlen, a born-and-bred Sturgeon Bay native, started her business while she was raising her children as an at-home mom.
“I’ve always loved drawing and painting,” she said. “I took it to the next level when I had kids and they were wanting to be creative.” Starting as a hobby, it became a way to make extra cash.
“It blossomed pretty quickly. My friends liked my work, and I did local shows, and I got my first start at Greco Gallery, and it kind of exploded from there,” she said.
During January, Wahlen and her family – including her husband, Jay; and her daughters, Lillian, Abigail, Hannah and Grace – have been fixing up the space, painting the walls and arranging the displays and merchandise.
Wahlen said she’s excited to be a part of the Third Avenue business community.
“They’ve really, really embraced me,” she said. “I received an outpouring of love. It’s really a community that we can be proud of. I feel very at home here. All of the businesses down here put love and passion into what they do, and I really wanted a piece of that for myself.”
The Reclaimed & Co. Jewelry space is open and bright, and all of the display pieces are repurposed furniture from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and the Door County Rummage Sale Facebook page. Against one wall is a garage door that was fitted with a long shelf made from a fly-fishing box, and driftwood pieces dot the entire space, serving as decorations and display backdrops.
The philosophy behind the design for Wahlen’s shop – highlighting repurposed materials – is a direct extension of her jewelry line. For Reclaimed & Co. Jewelry, Wahlen creates jewelry from salvaged and repurposed materials, including candy tins, found objects, beach glass, saved copper, broken vintage jewelry and other found or discarded items.
“The fashion/textile industry is a large polluter,” she said. “It’s important to me to be conscious of the role I play in this world, even down to the jewelry I wear. I find that my customers feel the same. Wearing responsible jewelry and accessories is a small way to be mindful of our impact on this earth. I have saved numerous things from the landfill and given them new life as pieces in my store. If I can’t make jewelry out of it, you can bet I turn it into décor or display.”
Wahlen will create all of her jewelry in-house. Her work desk is set up right next to the entrance, so on any given day, visitors may see her cleaning or hammering found metal and shaping it into intriguing jewelry pieces.
Reclaimed & Co. Jewelry will hold a grand reopening celebration on Feb. 15 – a day that will probably feel like a dream come true for Wahlen.
“Having a business on Third Avenue has been a dream of mine before I even knew what I wanted to be,” she said. “I am truly honored to be on the same street with so many established and seasoned businesses with hardworking entrepreneurs. I just want to express my gratitude to the community. It’s just been so good, so wonderful.”
Reclaimed & Co. Jewelry will host a grand reopening Feb. 15, 9 am – 4 pm. A complimentary gift bag, which includes jewelry, coupons to local businesses and various treats, will go to the first 20 customers. Winter store hours are Wednesday – Sunday, 9 am – 4 pm. Find out more at reclaimedcojewelry.com.