Behind the register at Be(Cause) Lifestyle Boutique in Wading River, you might find Brittney Wohl, a non-verbal 22-year-old with autism, or Jaclyn Visco, another 21-year-old with autism spectrum disorder.
Brittney uses an iPad to communicate with customers and Jaclyn is excited to sell bracelets she made herself.
“I decided that this location would be a great way to foster job skills, socialization and real-life experiences for young adults with disabilities,” said Stacey Wohl, the boutique’s owner and Brittney’s mom.
The boutique, which opened last month in Wading River Square, offers boho-chic clothing, artisan home goods, jewelry and more, many from shops that are woman-owned or give proceeds to charity. You can also try Ms. Wohl’s micro-roasted coffee, Coffee With a Cause, at the coffee bar inside. Also for sale are individually wrapped baked goods straight from North Fork spots such as Main Road Biscuit Co.
But the most important part is that it’s run with the help of employees and volunteers who have cognitive disabilities, like Brittney and Jaclyn.
“I love working here at a boutique because it brings me happiness and joy with my bracelets, bringing people together, some with a disability and some with not,” Ms. Visco said.
Ms. Wohl, who opened the store last month, is no stranger to running a business that sells clothing, coffee or employs those with disabilities.
Back in 2012, in need of some income and for a way to keep both her children with autism, Brittney and 20-year-old Logan, productive, Wohl started selling coffee out of her home in Northport, which was called Our Coffee With a Cause. Her business quickly grew, and in 2015, with the inspiration from her children to try and provide jobs and training for adults with cognitive disabilities, she opened Cause Cafe in Northport, which did just that.
“My mission was to have the kids in public, employable, so it would inspire other corporations to employ young adults with disabilities,” Ms. Wohl said.
The cafe received national attention, from coverage in the New York Times and on the Today Show and Rachael Ray.
Ms. Wohl was invited on Ms. Ray’s show and surprised with a cruise from Autism on the Seas. She brought her parents and Brittney. Two days into the cruise, her father, Jerry, suffered a heart attack and died. The family was devastated and closed Cause Cafe shortly afterward.
“I went back to the drawing board,” Ms. Wohl said. “I retooled my mission, taking the components that I thought worked with Cause Cafe, which was the young adults with disabilities being visible in the community.”
A former fit model, showroom saleswoman and designer in the fashion industry, Wohl combined her roots and opened Be(Cause) Boutique in East Northport in June 2018.
“The anticipation was to do what we’re doing here with the baked goods and the coffee,” she said.
Three weeks after the opening, her mother died. The store remained open for only four months.
After handling her mother’s affairs, Wohl and her children moved to Shoreham. After settling in, Wohl saw the Wading River space and decided to continue her mission.
“The main focus of this location is going to be job training in a real-life environment for young adults with disabilities,” she said. “They’ll be able to work on the register. They’ll learn how to unpack merchandise to learn how to tag merchandise, they’ll learn how to interact with the public, and be able to have some kind of a resume with other employment.”
Wohl also said the choice to sell merchandise from women-owned or charitable companies is partly inspired by her mother, in particular, the company Sudara, which invests in job training for Indian women.
“They work with women who are victims of sex trafficking, and they give them sustainable employment, which spoke to me because my mother had started a domestic assault shelter in Florida,” she said. “So I grew up doing charity work.”
Ms. Wohl’s ultimate goal is to one day open a bed and breakfast that combines the coffee bar and boutique, but for now, she’s working on creating a presence for the store, making it a learning environment to acquire real-life skills and a place for people with disabilities to train for job opportunities.
“We live in a time where there is not a lot of empathy or compassion,” she said. “When someone comes in here, and Brittney waits on them, or Jaclyn who just started with us as a volunteer, and they see a young person with disabilities so happy to be here and so grateful to be able to participate, I think it makes them happy as well.”
The boutique is located at 6278 Sound Ave. in Wading River. It will be open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The shop will be closed on Mondays for employees to learn and work on their job skills, Ms. Wohl said.