Artist Ari Schulman, of Pennington, made this flag decoration, which is available at Chance on Main. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)
Artist Ari Schulman, of Pennington, made this flag decoration, which is available at Chance on Main. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

There are many people who have great talents, but may need more time, understanding, and opportunity to realize their potential. This is the philosophy of Chance on Main, a store on 34 South Main Street in Pennington, founded December 2015, which offers a creative outlet for members of the Pennington community, particularly those with special needs.

While at first glance Chance on Main may appear like any other small-town gift shop, the store is unique in its commitment to social causes while also providing a place for people to buy unique and personalized items. Contributors to the store range from Pennington residents to international charity groups and nonprofits.

Liz Bell, the store’s owner, came up with the idea for Chance on Main after seeing how much art helped her son Tyler, who is autistic. “It became obvious that drawing and painting was a happy and a calm and a confident place for him,” she said. “When you spend a lot of your life uncomfortable and out of your element — like you’re a person in a foreign land — and you get that sweet spot where things seem to click, you want to do more of it.”

Now, Bell wants to offer others the same opportunity to express themselves and have their work showcased. Bell was largely motivated by the lack of opportunities for those with special needs. “There’s a huge wave of people with autism becoming adults,” she said. “Most of the capacity that’s out there is not designed to enrich who you are and help you find a satisfying life.”

While Chance on Main is largely focused on helping those with autism, Bell stresses that the store is a space for anyone eager to create. “I feel like if you’re an accountant by day and you craft beautiful jewelry by night, there should be a place for your jewelry,” she said.

“I have good stuff,” she added. “It’s not that I’m getting things purely for their social value.”

Liz Bell in the gallery of Chance on Main in Pennington, holding a quilted notebook made by Pennington artist Janneke van der Ree. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)
Liz Bell in the gallery of Chance on Main in Pennington, holding a quilted notebook made by Pennington artist Janneke van der Ree. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

For some members of the community, Chance on Main brings the whole family together. Mary Hogarth, 56, is a Bridgewater resident who contributes art for the store, along with her husband Charles, 58, and son James, 27, who is autistic. “I have always been a maker,” said Hogarth. She finds Chance on Main a perfect fit for her work, which includes cards and paintings. “I like to receive personal homemade gifts, so that’s where I started.”

Hogarth also deeply appreciates the opportunity Chance on Main gives her son James. “There’s a lot of limitations for what our kids can do, and yet they still have some special skills, and the world needs to know that even the most profoundly disabled person has great worth, and great possibilities” she said.

Janekke van der Ree, 53, is a Pennington resident and another contributor to the store, providing quilts and fabric works. She praised the Bell’s vision and the role the store plays in bringing the community together.

“I just really admire her input in the artistic community,” van der Ree said. “She’s so supportive. I’ve had my work before in several stores, and the percentage she takes is minimal.”

Ultimately, Bell, who is also a member of the Hopewell Valley Arts Council, and whose husband Peter is the CEO of Eden Autism Services, hopes that her store can serve as an inspiration for others. “There’s absolutely an opportunity for places like this to exist in other places,” she said. “Whether that’s something I’m part of or not, I’d just love to see more of it happen.”

For Bell, creating Chance on Main has been a labor of love. “We love Pennington, we love this community,” she said. “We’re so proud of the people who live here and have engaged with Tyler and these other young people.”

Chance on Main is open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. An inventory of items for sale is online at chanceonmain.com.