By Charles Erickson/For The Leader-Herald
JOHNSTOWN – The ambiances of the two workplaces of Danielle DeSantis are diametric opposites.
In the emergency room of Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville, where DeSantis works as a registered nurse, there is frequently stress, worry and crisis as new patients walk or are rolled through the entrance doors.
Behind the front counter of Sun & Rain, a Johnstown natural-products store which DeSantis owns, the atmosphere is relaxed. The shop has soft music and the aromas of peppermint and eucalyptus but not the hallway sound echoes and industrial-cleaner smells of a modern medical center.
There is some irony in that when she is in Sun & Rain, a place she has dedicated to wellness, the owner sometimes overlooks her own nutrition.
“I love being here,” DeSantis said on a recent Saturday afternoon. “But I’ll be here and forget to eat because I’m so happy and immersed in what I’m doing.”
There is plenty of work to keep her busy. She makes the store’s flagship products – its skincare line, its candles, its teas – by hand, in small batches.
Some products, including tea sets and wind chimes are sourced from external vendors. Other items are made by the owner’s father-in-law, mother-in-law and husband.
“Our family is really into handmade stuff,” said Frank DeSantis, the father-in-law. He helps grow the garlic used in Sun & Rain’s infused olive oils. He also enabled Danielle DeSantis to relocate what had been a home-based business into his framing shop at 517 N. Perry St.
A NEW KITCHEN IN AN OLD BUILDING
Danielle DeSantis, 38, has been a nurse for nearly 15 years but her interest in natural products predates when she became an R.N. She said she cleared up a bad acne problem by using such products. Her interest went to another level after the births of her two sons, now aged 6 and 8.
“I became a crazy health freak,” she said.
Her hospital colleagues heard about the body butter she created, through trial and error, and asked to buy some. They also wanted the face serum, lip oil and the immunity-boost loose-leaf tea.
Danielle DeSantis began selling items under the Sun & Rain name in 2017. She decided on the moniker after reading her sons a story, written by the author Richard Scary, in which the importance of sun and rain to the growth of a plant was repeatedly mentioned.
“That’s all you need to make a plant,” Danielle DeSantis said. “That’s the name! All my products are made from 100% plants, so it fit.”
And for the next four years, she expanded her product line and continued making small production runs in her kitchen.
“It was pretty hard,” Frank DeSantis said, “because every time she had to cook dinner or something, she had to put all of the stuff away.
A finishing carpenter for many years before he started a framing shop in 1998, Frank DeSantis had been considering scaling back the work he performed at The Finishing Touch, at 517 N. Perry St. He did reduce his output, but only after building a full kitchen for his daughter-in-law and moving the framing shop into the remaining third of the building.
Sun & Rain opened in its new retail location in late November of last year.
“Business has been really good,” Danielle DeSantis said. “Really good.”
She served a guest a cup of tea made from one of the store’s best sellers. She said it was designed to give a positive assist to a person’s immune system.
“It’s really high in antivirals and antibacterials,” Danielle DeSantis said of the tea, which is priced at $14 per packet and lasts most customers for about a month. “And a lot of people are magnesium deficient, so I put raw cocoa nibs in there.”
BIG PLANS FOR PLANTS AND MORE
The COVID-19 pandemic did not delay the launch of Sun & Rain’s first brick-and-mortar store. It sped up the project’s timetable.
“I love being a nurse,” Danielle DeSantis said, “but emotionally, it’s been very tough. These last two years were hard. A lot of death. And it just pushed me hard to try to get out.”
She still works two days a week in the emergency room. She works four days a week in the store, which is open from Wednesday to Saturday. The framing store remains open and the operating hours of the two enterprises are similar.
North Perry is a busy street, and to attract the eyes of passersby, Danielle DeSantis and her father-in-law plan to plant 2,000 sunflowers by the side of the road. They will also sell fresh-cut flowers, hanging baskets and fresh produce.
Sun & Rain’s owner wants to grow as many of her ingredients as possible.
“We planted a ton of comfrey last year,” Danielle DeSantis said. “That’s in all my skin care products. I have big dreams of growing a lot of perennials.”
The store sits on a 3-acre piece of property. There is an old horse barn in back, and plenty of space for gardens.
“It’s all paid for,” Frank DeSantis said.
“Every dime I make goes back into here,” Danielle DeSantis said, leading a tour of the store and pausing to look at a selection of her aromatherapy shower steamers, which she says are great for opening congested sinus passages.
The owner’s husband, Jonathan DeSantis, makes the wooden benches, herb-drying racks and stone statuary sold by Sun & Rain. Her mother-in-law, Paula DeSantis, makes the inventory of bibs, hot pads and other stitched products.
Danielle DeSantis hopes to start community wellness programs throughout the area. She has plans for nature meditation sessions, a gardening club for youngsters, and events for volunteers to plant trees and perennials which attract bees.
“I really want to spread love, bring people together for a higher cause and give back to our planet,” she said. “Our earth definitely needs that right now.”