April 20, 2024

SUMMIT, NJ — When she was just 16 years old, Tess Higgins decided to drop out of high school and pursue her dream of starting her own business.
Growing up, Higgins had many hobbies — from baking and knitting to making her own pottery and jewelry. She decided to combine all of these interests into her shop in Summit, By Tess, that recently opened downtown.
Higgins said she technically first started her business when she was 14 years old. At the time, she was enrolled in the Culinary Arts Academy at the Morris County Vocational School in Denville, but she decided to drop out to pursue her entrepreneurial path full-time.
“I think that I just had a very clear vision of what I wanted to be doing, and it was not being in school,” Higgins said. “I learn best by being hands-on, so I’ve just kind of jumped in and figured it out as I’ve gone along.”
Higgins explained that she’s always been passionate about making things — whether its crafts or baked goods. The reason she wanted to launch By Tess in the first place was because she had so many hobbies and wanted to find a way to encompass all of her interests into one company.
“By Tess isn’t a jewelry store, a bakery, a ceramic shop, or a clothing brand,” the store’s website states. “Rather, it is an open opportunity to allow myself to share with the world whatever my passion is at this point in my life, without any preconceived notions or labels of what I am expected to sell.”

Higgins opened her first location in The Wine List of Summit — a large wine store that also houses other vendors for coffee, flowers, cheese and more. After about a year at that location, Higgins received an offer to move to a bigger location with its own kitchen.
By Tess now shares a space with The Eatery, which is an American-style restaurant in Summit. Because The Eatery was struggling to stay open during the pandemic, the owner suggested sharing the space with Higgins in order to share the rent and utility costs.
The two stores function as separate businesses, but Higgins said the arrangement has been working well, as The Eatery operates mainly out of the kitchen and she sells most of her products at the front of the store.
Originally, the goal for By Tess was for every product in the store to be made by Higgins herself. But she quickly realized that this was an unrealistic goal.
Instead, Higgins has paired up with five or six local vendors and features many of their products in her store.
“Everything in my store is hand-made, which is something that I care a lot about,” Higgins said.
Items that she features from local artists in her store include ceramics, soaps, cards, chocolates, paintings and homemade candles.
Higgins said she was attracted to starting her business in Summit since she currently lives in Morristown and wanted to remain close to her family. Besides the convenient location, Higgins said she thinks Summit is on the up-and-up.
“I think that Summit is coming more alive,” Higgins said. “There are a lot of new businesses opening and there are a lot of young families in Summit, which I thought was great.”

Throughout the process of developing her business, Higgins said her parents have been extremely supportive.
“My parents are fantastic,” Higgins said. “They’re amazing for just encouraging me and letting me do this. I know that there are not a lot of parents that would just let their kid do their thing … They’re my biggest fans.”
Higgins recently had the soft opening for her store on Monday, and she said it’s been “extremely exciting.” She spent a lot of time redecorating the store and even built a giant wall covered with broken pieces of pottery. (See below)
Her self-made company has also garnered some celebrity attention, as actress Sarah Drew — known for her role as Dr. April Kepner on “Greys Anatomy” — and actor David Henrie — who played Justin Russo on Disney’s “Wizards of Waverly Place” — have both posted photos with Higgins’ creations on social media.

Here’s Henrie’s post on Instagram below:
And check out this photo of Drew and other stars with Higgins’ cookies:
You can check out what By Tess has to offer on its website or in the store at 447 Springfield Avenue. You can also follow the store’s Instagram @bytess.co.

Have a news tip? Email remy.samuels@patch.com.
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