At Woodstock’s Old Courthouse, new retailers get a head start in city’s business incubator

Women-owned businesses make up the first class of incubator retailers

Julienne Samuels of Seleta Scents places merchandise on shelves ahead of the store's opening Wednesday.

Kelly Kempf opened the Records Department in August. Julienne Samuels’ Seleta Scents will debut its first brick-and-mortar store this week.

Following Seleta Scents’ opening Wednesday and Mobcraft Brewery’s Thursday, Woodstock’s Old Courthouse will mark a milestone, with all its new businesses officially open.

Kempf’s and Samuels’ businesses also comprise the first class of Woodstock’s The 101 Incubator program, which includes classes for entrepreneurs but also two spaces for businesses – in this case, shops that sell records and scented products like candles, respectively – to get launched in the community.

A series of six small business workshops are open to business owners throughout the region and are “designed to help entrepreneurs successfully establish and grow their business,” Cathleen Tracy, economic development manager for Woodstock, wrote in an email.

To be considered for one of the two physical incubator spaces, businesses could not have had a brick-and-mortar location previously, were required to participate in the program’s education and networking offerings, and their proprietors have to be interested in opening a business in Woodstock after they’ve moved out of the incubator, Tracy said.

Tracy said the second round of business incubators will operate from the Old Courthouse spaces from April 2025 to February 2026.

”The 10 month lease will be the schedule moving forward, so that each vendor has an opportunity to be open during a full Woodstock Farmers Market season in the Woodstock Square, holiday events, as well as Groundhog Day weekend,” Tracy wrote.

The city of McHenry also has a downtown business incubator program up and running with its Riverwalk Shoppes.

At Woodstock’s incubator, both the Records Department and Seleta Scents are women-owned businesses, and Seleta Scents is also a Black-owned business.

Tracy said the businesses were selected because they seemed ready to open a store.

“The Committee reviewed numerous business plans from applicants and selected the two that seemed ready to take the next step to open a store. When our businesses are women-owned or minority-owned, it is another reason to celebrate,” Tracy wrote.

Kempf said she and her business partner, Michael Sacco, have been in business since mid-August and had a grand opening celebration around Labor Day.

“Everyone was ready for a record store,” Kempf said.

Kempf said she sees a lot of traffic from Wisconsin and other areas to the store.

“CDs are dying quickly,” Kempf said, and added that people are interested in vinyl records.

Records at the Woodstock Records Departments store.

Kempf added that the Records Department primarily sells new records, and while they generally focus on punk, grunge and indie music, they stock all genres.

“Taylor Swift fans deserve to be seen as much as Metallica fans deserve to be seen,” Kempf said.

Kempf added Swift’s popularity has helped to boost business at the record store.

“We’re really grateful for Taylor Swift,” Kempf said. “All record store owners should be grateful for Taylor Swift.”

Swift aside, the Records Department plans to stay in Woodstock for the long haul.

“We have full intention of renting or owning a storefront on the Woodstock Square,” Kempf said.

Seleta Scents is the other business in this first round of business incubators.

Samuels is the owner of Seleta Scents, alongside her fiance Mike Richards.

Samuels said she named the business after her late mother, who had encouraged her and her brother to pursue entrepreneurial pursuits.

She added she began making candles as part of working through her grief after her mother died, and after sharing her candles with her friends and family, began selling her candles at the Elk Grove Village Farmers Market. This year, Samuels sold her products at five farmers markets.

After working with a small business group to look into options for a brick-and-mortar store, Richards and Samuels heard of the business incubator.

They said they had been looking in other towns for a space, but felt like Woodstock was more supportive of small businesses.

Woodstock’s picturesque downtown also helped to win them over.

“We just fell in love with the community,” Samuels said.

“We vacation in these types of places,” Richards said.

Richards said he’d grown disenchanted with his corporate job, which he left to help out with Seleta Scents.

Richards and Samuels also are working to create a sense of community in their store. Their space has a pop-up with some other entrepreneurs, including Jai Dewith.

Dewith’s business, called Rocio Salgado, focuses on beauty products made from plants and flowers.

“I grow everything,” Dewith said.

Dewith said she met Samuels through the farmers market. Samuels really liked Dewith’s products and Dewith really liked Samuels’ products.

Dewith divides her time between Argentina and the United States, and sells her products in both countries.

Her pop-up in Woodstock will be her first presence in a brick-and-mortar store.

“I feel honored being in their store,” Dewith said.

Samuels said she’s hoping to partner with Makity Make, a DIY craft store that’s also located in the Old Courthouse to teach classes.

Seleta Scents is scheduled to open its doors Wednesday at 10 a.m., but the public has already stopped by and popped their heads in as Richards and Samuels have been setting up shop.

“Everybody is already super welcoming,” Samuels said.