The happenings of the day unspooled in Joanne Smida’s mind as she tediously tinkered with the final piece of the puzzle of her storefront’s window display. She took a step back. The window sparkled — illuminated by the effervescent glow of the myriad of crystal knick-knacks shining behind it.
In the store, warm amber rays danced off the grooves of crystal dome lamps, brightening the faces of Byers’ Choice Caroler figurines, hand-painted down to the detail of the rose tinge of their singing cheeks. One was a little too far right in the display. She nudged it back a few inches.
Smida studied each piece – researching and recording its origin before setting it on the shelves. But not every piece made it to the window. Those were selected with extra care.
The window has charmed Bethlehem’s historic Main Street for 34 years. Hand Cut Crystal and Bethlehem Christmas Shoppe serves as a familiar, yet dazzling place for travelers and townspeople alike to shop for gifts and trinkets. Smida is the second of her family to own the shop. Her mother passed it down in 2006.
“The window always caught me,” said Peg Horvath, a long-time customer and former employee of 19 years.
Horvath, who initially worked for Smida’s mother, Joanne Walters, continued working as Smida settled into her new role. With each passing year, she saw the product line grow from imported Italian crystal bowls and paperweights to Russian dolls and Christmas ornaments.
When 5 p.m. came, Smida stayed at the front desk, finishing up lingering paperwork if she wasn’t scouring the internet for new pieces to purchase. The clicks of the keyboard were muted by the chime of the front door as Horvath headed home for the night.
Fitful shuffles through the stacks of cardboard boxes interrupted the calm of the empty store. Smida, adding a fresh box to the towering shelves of inventory, accounted for her new crystal addition on her list. It’s a routine that has become so familiar, yet it’s one she never knew would be hers.
It used to be her mother’s. Walters ran the shop for 19 years, each year watching her daughter tackle the newest task she put her mind to — a bevy of school clubs, her first job at 16, and community service memberships.
Smida would take the initiative, and would not stop until she accomplished it.
“And once she got something, she felt an obligation to do the best she could,” Walters said. “You don’t find that in a lot of people.”
Smida followed her ambitious spirit throughout the twists and turns of life. It led her back to school to finish her degree in business. It led her from desk job to desk job – at one time working three jobs at once. And, unknowingly, it led her to consider purchasing a business of her own.
But Smida didn’t see herself as a businesswoman. Her mother knew otherwise. “You know, there’s this health store for sale in Emmaus,” Smida remembers her mom telling her.
“Yeah, I know I looked at it with my friend. I’m not interested,” Smida said, waiving off the idea. She said her mother paused, and said: “Let us be the judge of that. Let’s go.”
Within two weeks, Smida re-opened the health market, welcoming patrons into her very first storefront.
She relied on her family and mentors gathered along the way to get her footing as a business owner. She learned how to set goals and slowly grew confident in herself.
“Two people saw in me what I didn’t see in myself, which is pretty sad in some ways,” Smida said. “But when I look back, I understand that sometimes you can’t see what’s right in front of you.”
When it came time for Walters and her husband to retire, they unspokenly agreed that Smida would be the best person for the job.
Soon, the shop — and the crystal — became her life. Custom crystal listings and merchandising inspiration consumed her Facebook feed. She procured her own crystal collection, gathering the misfits or the picked-over pieces to adorn her apartment.
She fell in love with the family business she never thought she’d run.
Smida grew closer to her customers and employees, bonding over shining pendants and pendulums.
But passion doesn’t pay the bills. Times got tight along the way. One by one, mom and pop shops succumbed to the paycheck of big business.
Main Street served as a haven for small businesses for years. Ornate wood store signs lined the street, enticing window shoppers to explore their offerings. The historic Hotel Bethlehem, a hot spot for travelers and tourists, is just across the street from the crystal shop.
“People think you make a lot of money here,” Smida said. “But I’m not Amazon, it’s still really difficult.”
The down periods came with restless nights. Tossing in her sleep, Smida woke at 2 a.m. one night in 2008. Worries of paying the bills darted in her head as she searched for ways to make ends meet. Her mind went back to that wall of cardboard boxes filled with figurines and crystal collections from years past.
“So I started selling them on eBay,” Smida said. “I laid in bed and figured out how to do it because my parents never did.”
Thirteen years later, Smida is still thinking of new ways to improve the shop. From the way she greets customers to the way she positions the final piece in her window display – she keeps the spirit of the store alive.
In a world where big corporations loom, the quaint window of Hand Cut Crystal and Bethlehem Christmas Shoppe still shines bright.