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Jil Hilbrenner of witch hazel in beacon ny

We Are Upstate NY With Witch Hazel Apothecary Owner Jill Hilbrenner

By inside + out | July 17, 2023

On July 1st, 2023, Witch Hazel Apothecary celebrated its first anniversary. Congratulations, Jill Hilbrenner! We all know how difficult, exhilarating and satisfying running a business can be and getting past your first year is a wonderful accomplishment! Witch Hazel is a modern-day apothecary that taps into the calming beauty of nature. Back in 2019, after Jill spent the better part of that year tackling health issues. She spent her time with the meditative process of designing floral arrangements–and she got really good at it. What started as a hobby in her apartment turned into an obsession that sparked the idea for her shop:

“…the idea that the Earth creates the most beautiful gifts you could ever want.”

Located on Main Street in Beacon, NY, Witch Hazel Apothecary is Jill’s dream come true. Here, you’ll find Jill’s beautifully curated collection of mostly small-batch products that include botanical-inspired beauty products, gifts and dried flowers. She also offers workshops where you can be a florist for a day. At her popular dried flower classes, you’ll make bouquets or other arrangements featuring beautiful blooms that’ll last for years. Private classes are also available–think bridal shower social event or activities to do with the kids!

Let’s meet Jill Hilbrenner, and please be sure to DM her a Happy First Year in Business!” message in this blog or on her instagram profile!

Jill Hilbrenner owner of Witch Hazel Apothecary in Beacon NY
INSIDE+OUT: Where are you originally from and how did you wind up in the Hudson Valley? Beacon specifically?

Jill Hilbrenner: I grew up in Missouri, about an hour outside of Kansas City. (Let’s talk barbecue.) I lived in London and worked in media for a bit post-college, but the economy tanked. I ended up finding a job in NYC and lived there for almost 12 years.

My husband, Mike, and I moved to Beacon in 2021, and please don’t stop reading this if you have strong feelings about pandemic movers. We had talked about making the move about five years prior but didn’t expect to act on it till around 2025. But a lot of health factors sped things up. I dealt with early-stage breast cancer in 2019 so was holed up most of that year when I wasn’t at appointments or treatments. (All clear now, thank God.) I also was petrified to go outside during the intense part of the pandemic, even for little walks, because we lived about two blocks from a major hospital. When you’ve just finished treatment for a pretty frightening illness, it’s not great to see, “Oh, there’s a second body truck at the hospital today.” It was just so sad. The final factor was me needing knee surgery in 2021 and not wanting to deal with our sixth-floor walk-up (92 steps) during all of that. We wanted to go somewhere beautiful, where we’d frequently visited, and where I could basically feel safer and we could start a new chapter.

What inspired your interest in flowers and how did it lead to a retail business?

I started playing around with flowers and plants when I was probably nine or so. I would collect little apples and leaves from the trees in my backyard and spray-paint them gold to pretend I was making artwork. All throughout my time in NYC, I loved getting flowers from Sunny’s Florist in the East Village because they had such interesting choices. Then I began properly arranging in 2019 after finishing radiation therapy. When I finally had enough energy to do something, I wanted to do something pretty that had NOTHING to do with the medical world. I started posting designs on Instagram, then selling to friends, then doing events and classes, and here we are.

window dried flowers display at Witch Hazel Apothecary in Beacon NY


Describe what you mean by “Modern Day Apothecary”. Is there a connection to nature for you?

A lot of people ask about our combo of dried flower designs and natural beauty products. For me, it all comes back to harnessing plants and nature for self-care. I think of this as a place where nature guides everything and you let plants be as great as they are, whether that means an arnica salve or a lip balm not full of petroleum products or a dried bouquet. (Let’s be serious, I also just couldn’t give up flowers.)

All of the personal care and beauty products we sell are cruelty-free, and about 98% are vegan, so plant-centric. Things that are meant to have a restorative property of some kind. The idea is to tap into nature in all its beauty, offer products that minimize harm to the planet and create a welcoming environment where people can explore “clean” items without spending a fortune or feeling like they’re excluded from some secret society that dictates what is “clean” and what is not.

Tell us more about your products. What can one expect from a visit to Witch Hazel?

The common theme, again, is letting natural ingredients shine. The exact product range shifted as we moved from exclusively online and Instagram sales to our retail shop. At first, we specialized in florals, things you might need for your garden, and overtly floral products like whole-flower teas. Once we added a little bit of plant-based beauty, people really responded. Now, the bulk of what we carry is cruelty-free skincare and body care, makeup and fragrance. “Natural” products can often be code for “expensive” in many retail stores. We carry products at a range of price points and make sure the atmosphere isn’t exclusionary.

natural beauty products from Witch Hazel Apothecary in Beacon NY

Where do you source your products?

It varies. Some products are created by people I met through working in media before. Others are made by friends of friends. And still, others come from brands we’ve reached out to due to aligned values (being cruelty-free, minimizing waste, etc.).

Some people come in and ask, “So, do you just choose what you like?” Yes and no. Everything we sell, I do or would use myself. But there’s a strategy and it’s not just Jill’s Medicine Cabinet. We have a wide selection of products, many under $60, that help people move to more natural ingredients while tracking budgets. I worked in fragrance and beauty creative at Chanel, and that gave me an education in what things cost and why. If a random product seems overpriced, that’s not for us.

How do you define wellness? What does it mean to you?

Ah, wellness! Another word, just like “clean,” can mean everything or nothing. Let’s start with what it’s not, at least in my opinion. It’s not spending a fortune on artisanal this or that just because a fancy website told you to. It’s not bankrupting yourself on the path to “self-care.” I think wellness means being kind to your body and mind, while also respecting the environment and the planet you live on. For me, that means going to therapy, getting enough sleep, and making sure I feel my best. That might mean using an aromatherapy lotion on a stressful day, taking a bath with a good-quality soap or decorating my place with my favorite dried flowers, little things.

natural beauty products from Witch Hazel Apothecary in Beacon NY

Do you have your own personal wellness ritual?

Eh, I try and I have goals. Most importantly, I go to therapy! I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night (easier said than done with a new business), exercise more days than not, drink lots of tea (especially turmeric ginger) and wear sunscreen even when I feel too lazy to put it on. We’re all just trying our best.

In your opinion, what is a good routine people can follow for everyday wellness?

Say something nice to yourself and actually mean it. We’re all tired from the past few years, changing our lives fundamentally and stressing and grieving due to a period of collective global trauma. Think about that. That is a lot! So did you do a great job getting a good night’s sleep, or maybe you’re proud of a project at work or you’re happy that you gave yourself time to take a walk and not stare at your phone? That’s wonderful. It can be something little or something big, but you have to appreciate what your body and mind can do.

Also: did I mention sunscreen?!

Do you offer classes on the art of flower arranging?

Yep! We’re a little slower on that front in the summer, but we do vase arranging, wreath-making, pressed flower art and so on. We also bring in guest teachers for things like perfume-making and kintsugi (Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. We use faux gold.). It’s fun to see people get into this meditative, creative state as they work, detaching from whatever was on the to-do list before or will be waiting after.

ill Hilbrenner owner of Witch Hazel Apothecary in Beacon NY

What is one question you’re constantly asked or the biggest misconception about what you do?

Who did your flowers in here? I DID! We have a wall covered in palm leaves, and a flower cloud hanging in the window, and people constantly ask where they came from. From yours truly.

A misconception is that because I am lucky enough to work with “pretty things” that smell good, then that must be the job. No budget spreadsheets or inventory analysis or vendor negotiations. Someone once said: “You must have so much fun all day, trying everything on and just playing around.” Yep, I do have fun at my job! But it’s also a job, and it’s hard, and it’s more than making myself look or smell fancy like a little shop doll.

How do you grow your business and how do your clients find you? Do you leverage social media to get work and how is that working for you?

Instagram and word of mouth have been super-helpful. It feels good when people like something so much that they tell their friends to go buy it. For example, we have this rose face mask that one person recommended to a friend, who then told another, and another and so on and so forth. I call it the community mask.

I also believe in local advertising (hello, Highlands Current!) and getting involved with local events to show that you’re part of and invested in the community. Being newer to the area, I didn’t want to feel like we descended and made things conform to us. I wanted to participate and contribute, financially and otherwise.

ill Hilbrenner owner of Witch Hazel Apothecary in Beacon NY
What is the most rewarding and challenging part of your job?

Most rewarding… when people walk in and say something has changed their lives or given them more confidence. Sometimes, it’s easy to write off the types of products we sell as trivial, but they can be powerful.

The most challenging is definitely anticipating ebbs and flows of tourism (weekends you swear will be busy aren’t and vice versa) and product preferences. Something people are obsessed with one week because they saw it on TikTok… the next week, no one might care.

Are there any new developments or upcoming projects you’d like to share?

So honored to say that we were named the best clean beauty shop in the Best of Hudson Valley roundup! That made me so grateful. Also, our shop turned one on July 1st. We had a wonderful celebration with great food and drinks, massages, gifts and specials, that kind of thing. It was fun! Last but not least, we’re introducing some new floral classes this fall. I hope folks will love them.

What is it about the Hudson Valley that makes it unique to live + work here?

I feel so much more grounded, even when I’m stressed as all get out. I like being able to sit and brainstorm in my backyard with my dogs. Also, there’s a special sense of community here. I love getting to know clients and getting to call them friends, or sharing the highs and lows with business-owner neighbors (like Matcha Thomas, Stella’s Fine Market, and Hunca Munca’s). And finally, being closer to nature, for someone whose business stems from nature, is a beautiful joy.

natural beauty products from Witch Hazel Apothecary in Beacon NY

What impact does your business strive to have on your community?

Business doesn’t exist in isolation. We love people to come in and shop, but we also love when they come back and recycle their beauty packaging with us since we can return it to TerraCycle. (We give a 15% recycling discount, and the products don’t have to be ours.) We also rallied folks together for a bra and period product drive back in February, collecting more than 200 undergarments and nearly 2,000-period products for folks experiencing homelessness. Again, beauty and home decorating (like with flowers) can get a bad rap as trivial, which I don’t think they are, and I want what we do to have substance and impact.

What local businesses do you rely on to be successful?

So many! Some of our brands (like Captain Blankenship and Indie Lee) are very local. Any supplies I need for the shop, I’ll try to grab from places like Brett’s Hardware (fix-it-up stuff) or the Newburgh Vintage Emporium Warehouse and DamnAged Vintage (decorations). Then, there’s just this incredible business community, with an outsized amount of woman founders. I love being able to talk to Nikki at Stella’s Fine Market, Erika at Hunca Munca’s, Charmaine at Matcha Thomas, Stephanie at Campbell and Campbell Salon, Judiann at DamnAged Vintage, Olivia at Hudson & King Jewelry…the list goes on and if I didn’t mention anyone, I love you.

What is missing in the area that you wish you had?

I’d love to see more protections for the Hudson River and what can go into it. Does that count?

Tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to know.

This has nothing to do with anything, but I was a baton twirler in high school and that was surprisingly badass. In heeled boots, I could toss a baton, spin around four times and catch it… juggle three at a time… juggle two ON FIRE. I miss that, actually.

What would be your dream Staycation?

Anywhere in a hammock with my dogs.

What is your current state of mind?

Frazzled but excited for what’s next. Let’s go!


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