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Matt Villnave at Trait-Carré in Lewiston.
Matt Villnave at Trait-Carré in Lewiston.

Small Business Saturday: Trait-Carré smells like a winner

by jmaloni
Fri, Nov 19th 2021 10:00 am

If you watched Sunday’s episode of “60 Minutes” – heck, if you’ve walked into a superstore lately – then you know this country has a serious supply chain problem. Docks are filled with items stashed in crates – and there’s no guarantee those products will end up in your stocking or under your tree this holiday season.

The warehouses, truck drivers and shipping companies are blaming each other, costs are going through the roof, and shelves have more bald spots than your uncle Leo.

It’s super-frustrating.

But there is a silver lining – no, not for that, but in your present planning.

If you’re one of the countless people who shop small, then you know a lot of aggravation can be avoided by patronizing locally owned merchants.

They have products! In fact, many make their own or utilize other nearby mom-and-pop operations for goods.

And if you’re into that whole, “What’s my name, does this look good on me, do you have it in blue, can you gift-wrap it for me?” thing, then you’ll be pleased to know local merchants are eager to answer those questions.

The pandemic is approaching (gulp) two years – and it’s still not easy (or cheap) to cross the border. Residents have been great in keeping local businesses afloat. They are encouraged to continue that practice on Small Business Saturday.

In return, merchants will make available unique gifts and goods at the lowest prices of the year.

There might even be hot chocolate.



A look inside Trait-Carré, which Matt Villnave, his wife, Sara, and their family recently opened on Center Street in Lewiston.


By Joshua Maloni

The philosophy behind Trait-Carré isn’t complicated.

“It's a real simple concept: If it smells good, you'll find it in my store,” owner Matt Villnave said. “It’s not any more complicated. There are skin care products, there are lotions, balms, scrubs – but what do they all have in common? They smell good.

“Except for the unscented ones (laughs).”

Villnave, who also owns and operates Lewiston Digital, said, “I've always been into handmade soaps. My wife is more of a Irish Spring-type individual (laughs).

“That's always been more me. I've sought out that kind of stuff. I like more natural products. I've really learned to just ditch chemicals and things like that.

“So, I thought, if we were going to do anything, this could be something I could do; I would get into. I wasn't interested in making soap or candles at this point. There's enough people doing that out there that do a really good job. I just felt I could play a role as kind of a curator, go out there and try new products. If I like them, or I think they're interesting, I'll bring them into the store.

“We'll have our staples, but I’ll always be bringing new stuff in as well.”

Villnave is the latest retailer to open in the Center Street strip that used to be Olde Time Barber Shop and Sister & Brother clothing store. He joins Lewiston Love, O’s Smoke Shop and Revamped New York.

Trait-Carré offers soap, aromatherapy products, various scents, lip balms, Mason jar candles and essential oils.

“We're just keying in on that one sense,” Villnave said. “I'm a believer in aromatherapy. I don't think it cures everything like some people do; but I think when it comes to your mental well-being and helping with anxiety issues and things like that, I think it can definitely play a role. You don't have to be an essential oil person to enjoy that, because you can simply use a scented bar of soap in the morning and start your day off right; or shower steamers.

“And the other thing that I wanted the store to be was just like the concept of simple luxuries. So, everything in here is pretty inexpensive. But it's going to make you feel good. It's going to make your house smell good. It's going to improve your life in just little ways through just one sense. That's kind of the concept, and so we'll just keep rolling in product lines.”

Now, it’s not that Villnave is anti-commercial soap. It’s just that his product line is “scented better, for sure,” he said.

“A lot of the soaps are scented with just essential oils, so they don't have that kind of synthetic scent to them,” Villnave said. “And that's where you really get like the therapeutic product qualities out of them. Most of the soaps have shea butter in them, so it's making your skin softer. Some of my soaps, like the charcoal soaps, are meant for specific skin conditions, whether you have rosacea, or just dry skin, or eczema.

“I think just kind of a more luxurious experience in a rather mundane process of taking a shower or a bath. You know, the bath bombs – you can get in a bath without a bath bomb, or you can get in one with a bath bomb. And there are two different experiences.

“I get the convenience, and it's certainly cheaper to go buy some Zest or something, but the soap makers that I work with, most of the soap in here is handmade, really small-batch stuff. They just do a great job of consistent product. They really put a lot of thought into the scent profiles.”

Products come from Plant Therapy, Our Own Candle Company, Kingsley Street, P.F. Candle and Pré de Provence.

One of the store’s signature features sort of looks like a juice station.

“The soap bar was an idea that I had, and I had seen it elsewhere, but I just wanted to do it a little bit differently,” Villnave said of the four large, colorful containers. “The idea is to get people to stop buying a little plastic thing of Dial and then throwing it in the garbage. Just reuse – come in here and fill it up.

“I've tried to make it very inexpensive. It's a just all vegan, all organic Castile soap. It's very versatile. I'll have a constantly changing selection of scents. I sell containers here, and people bring in their own containers that they purchase, as well, just to fill it up. I just sell it by the ounce.”

On Small Business Saturday, “We're going to be running 10% off the whole store, and we're going to have some additional promotions on essential oils and diffusers, because we feel like those products would make really good gifts,” Villnave said. “We'll probably do a few other things. … We’ll try to do some more bundles, too, and some kind of gift sets.”

Trait-Carré is located at 480 Center St. Visit www.trait-carre.com. Stop in, shop, and ask Matt about the story behind the store’s name.



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