Bridgit Rallo calls out a friendly greeting as visitors enter her Peacetree Originals store along Kenosha’s Seventh Avenue. It’s not uncommon to find her there sitting on the floor, barefoot, stringing beads along with her 3-year-old daughter, Cicely. The spicy scent of incense in the air gently tickles your nose, while a tabletop fountain provides a calming backdrop.
Rallo, who describes herself as “corrupted by hippies” as a child, turned her passion for jewelry making into a successful store, where she also sells her tie-dyed garments and a host of other items ranging from body care products to tea and soy candles. Peace flags and tie-dyed scarves flutter in the large front windows of the store. A smiling sun plaque over the door frame welcomes visitors.
Rallo’s business cards are true to her ideals: “Known for hippie hours. Save some gas; call first.” A red VW bus parked in front of the store is another sure sign she is open for business.
While she enjoys tie-dying as a creative outlet — and rejuvenating old clothes to keep them out of landfills — her first artistic love is jewelry making. Rallo grew up near Lake Michigan in the Carol Beach area, where she was artistically inspired by the stones and shells she discovered along the lake shore. There she developed a love of nature. She creates unique jewelry incorporating semi-precious stones and shells, along with glass, seeds, sterling silver, hemp and leather.
“I don’t deal with diamonds or gold,” she said.
After earning a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Rallo focused on making jewelry and selling it at craft fairs and festivals from roughly 1997 to 2001. Positive comments about her jewelry encouraged her to open a store in Kenosha. Peacetree has been housed in three other locations in the vicinity before settling where it is now at 4721 Seventh Ave.
The store has received a positive reaction from the community.
“Some people consider (Peacetree) as a hippie store. Some, more of a therapy store,” she said.
People looking to lift their spirits seek crystals and essential oils. They also are enveloped in a rainbow of color and a positive energy inside the store. Within minutes of meeting Rallo, visitors will not be surprised to learn that she loves rainbows, sunsets, dancing barefoot and the music of The Grateful Dead. The peace symbol is prevalent in the store, decorating hats, satchels and an array of pendants in different styles and sizes. Rallo’s commitment to the environment includes a healthy business in recycled tie-dyes, which she creates to cover stains. “I do a ton of baby onesies,” she said. “It keeps them out of the dumpster.”
People can browse through baskets of trinkets, ranging from African beads to shark vertebrae and ammonite (snail fossils), which Rallo will incorporate into jewelry on the spot if she is not too busy. The beads are not for individual sale — only custom-made jewelry. Hemp jewelry items incorporating the beads and shells have been popular with teens and young adults, she said.
Rallo also is happy to work with beads that people bring in.
“I can take apart Grandma’s broken pearl necklace and make bracelets for every woman in that family,” she said. “I like to do the special stuff.”
The silk tie-dyed scarves she sells also have been in demand.
“People are wearing them as belts, scarves and head wraps,” she said.
She has experimented with offering a variety of fair trade products (which assist people in developing countries), along with items made locally, including natural soap and batik wall hangings.
By staying true to her ideals as a modern-day hippie, Rallo has found a comfortable degree of commercial success.