Spirituality and customer-facing entrepreneurship were meant to come together in Dana Cooper’s life—back home in the Hudson Valley.
Bringing her vision for her “modern witch shop” Ritualist to bricks-and-mortar life is Dana Cooper’s own unique adventure in manifestation. Cooper spent her twenties as a music publicist in Brooklyn—an experience that, she says, laid the foundation for professional confidence.
“I was shy when I was younger, and being thrown into a public-facing role forced me out of my shell,” says Cooper, a New Paltz native. “There was a sort of fake-it-’til-you-make-it mentality, and I eventually became comfortable with taking a leadership role, speaking with authority, and owning my skills and experience. I still struggle with ‘imposter syndrome,’ but I’m grateful that my work experiences shaped me into someone who’s a little more comfortable taking risks and trusting in my ability to make things happen.”
Dana opened her own business in the downstate music publicity world, which led to being “stuck behind a computer most days,” not how she wanted to spend her time. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, but I knew that I wanted it to be more hands-on and customer-facing,” she says. “I took a job at a flower shop in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and that’s when I first started thinking about opening my own retail space: I loved getting to know our customers, helping them pick out meaningful goods, and seeing how the carefully curated shop made them light up as they entered.”
“My goal with Ritualist has always been to provide a safe, inclusive space where people can feel comfortable being fully themselves.” – Ritualist owner Dana Cooper
Meanwhile, other currents were flowing in her life. Feeling increasingly magnetized and energized by her spiritual quest, she studied at a “really great healing space” in Brooklyn and joined a moon circle, becoming an avid student of healing, spirituality, and witchcraft. It turned out that spirituality and customer-facing entrepreneurship were meant to come together in her life—back home in the Hudson Valley.
Dana’s roots were in New Paltz, and after 11 years in Brooklyn she let the magnetism of family connections and open spaces pull her back upriver in 2020. It had become harder and harder to leave after a visit. “While I loved a lot of aspects of living in the city, my husband and I both knew we’d eventually end up here when the time felt right,” she says.
“We host a monthly new moon circle and we’ve had aura photo pop-ups, a tarot 101 class, one-on-one tarot readings, movie screenings, and a concert in our parking lot!”
“I always knew that I wanted to wait until I moved back upstate to open a brick-and-mortar shop, and by the time I made the move in 2020, I already had Ritualist up and running online and was more than ready to find a storefront. From day one, it always felt like something that I just had to do: Despite all of the risks associated with starting a retail business, especially during COVID, I knew in my heart that it was important for me to bring this dream to life.”She’s loving being home. “Growing up here, I didn’t appreciate the Hudson Valley as much as I do now! Now that I’m back, I realize that our area—and New Paltz in particular—offers the perfect balance between country life and city life. There’s so much to do—between hiking the gorgeous trails, visiting orchards and farm breweries, exploring neighboring towns, and going to local events—but there’s still a sense of peace and privacy, which I really missed while living in Brooklyn. I love that we’re surrounded by nature, but we’re not off the grid. I love that each town has its own unique energy, and I look forward to exploring even more when I have more free time.”
“This space just feels like it was meant to bring people together, and I love watching that happen.”
Right now, her time is largely and happily consumed by making Ritualist a reality in the town she loves. As every entrepreneur knows, it’s a heavy lift with innumerable moving parts—but Dana’s got a bit of an astrological advantage going on, having both sun and moon in Capricorn. “For those who aren’t into astrology, Capricorns are typically known for having leadership qualities, being able to see the big picture, and relentlessly chasing their goals.
While I can’t chalk it all up to astrology, I do think that I have this inherent drive to go after what I want and figure things out along the way. “I knew deep down that I’d do my best work if I was given the freedom to operate by my own rules, and to execute my vision from start to finish. Working for myself in music publicity and getting a taste of complete independence solidified the idea that I shine when I’m given the space to bring my ideas to life on my own terms.”
Ritualist opened its doors on April 15, 2021. “The past year has been one huge learning experience,” Dana says. “It’s been a lot of trial and error when it comes to things like managing inventory, how to best utilize social media for marketing, and balancing the countless tasks.
I still feel like I have so much to learn, but I’m figuring it out as I go.” Some things she knew going in: that everything would be ethically, sustainably, and inclusively sourced; a percentage of profits would be donated to marginalized people; and that she had no interest in empty slogans. “That mindset of ‘spiritual bypassing’ ignores the very real impacts of things like racism, white supremacy, and colonialism on every aspect of our lives, and it’s both dangerous and harmful,” Cooper says. “You’ll never see ‘good vibes only,’ ‘manifest your best life’ messaging here. Many of our books directly address things like social justice, mutual aid, and the importance of lifting up marginalized voices within the context of witchcraft or spirituality.”
“Growing up here, I didn’t appreciate the Hudson Valley as much as I do now! Now that I’m back, I realize that our area—and New Paltz in particular—offers the perfect balance between country life and city life.”
Dana hopes to host more in-person retreats and workshops as the pandemic abates, and she’s enjoying building connections with her diverse customers. “From modern witches like myself who dabble in a bit of everything and are always seeking to learn more, to long-practicing Wiccans who engage in more formal, traditional practice, to locals popping their heads in to see what it’s all about, it’s been a pleasure to meet such a range of folks.” Entering, they find tools for healing and magic-making—tarot and oracle decks, herbal tinctures, books and zines, spell candles, plant-infused body products. “We host a monthly new moon circle and we’ve had aura photo pop-ups, a tarot 101 class, one-on-one tarot readings, movie screenings, and a concert in our parking lot!” says Dana. “We’re a retail shop first and foremost, but I’m always looking for ways to bring people together to learn, share stories, and connect on a deeper level.”
The shop’s first home, on North Front Street, was recently exchanged for a location with more space and generous display windows. “Just as I was looking ahead to Ritualist’s second year and thinking about the future—and potentially needing more space to expand into—I found out that the space at 72 Main Street was being renovated,” says Dana. “I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of it, before a ‘For Rent’ sign even went up, and the rest is history! I had been thinking and talking to friends about opening up to abundance and asking for what you want, and I really feel like I put it out there that I was ready for something bigger and better. Whether or not you believe in things like manifestation—or as we often talk about at our moon circles, that words are spells—I really do think that I needed to be in the headspace of growth and expansion and trust in order to make the jump. Moving after only one year in business was a big risk, but it’s one that I knew I needed to take!
“My goal with Ritualist has always been to provide a safe, inclusive space where people can feel comfortable being fully themselves—discover ethically-made brands and products, find new tools to deepen and support their practice, and engage in meaningful conversation. My favorite thing is when I’m chatting with a customer—about astrology, tarot, or our favorite witchy podcast—and another customer chimes in with a personal anecdote, a book recommendation…This space just feels like it was meant to bring people together, and I love watching that happen.”
72 Main Street, New Paltz