No matter what we do, what we do matters.
Meet Amy Brown. Amy is the owner of Evelyn Jane Boutique in Downtown Downers Grove, IL, and most recently Evelyn on Second, the sister store in Elmhurst, IL. Amy has a thoughtful and curated collection in both stores of jewelry, gift, and bespoke items to offer local shoppers.
G: This project is all about our local community. I have always loved your store, and you are always a friendly face when I come into the shop. I just think your shop is something really special for our downtown.
A: Thank you. That has been the biggest part of this. Just getting to know people and seeing familiar faces come in the store. Now that I have a second location, I am the new kid there, and it’s a lot of unfamiliar faces coming in. It has been fun getting to know new people at the second store, and then when I come back into the Downers Grove store, it’s like coming home. Most of the people that come in, I recognize, and it’s so awesome. I love it.
G: Tell me about this original store. How did it all come about?
A: My background is in retail. I started working part-time in retail in high school, and then full-time for 16 years starting in college and over breaks. I worked for Crate and Barrel for a lot of those years and really loved it. At one point, they started restructuring, and things started changing. At that point I felt like maybe it was time to move on. I always had the idea of a store like this sitting on my shoulder. It’s like it was always right there somewhere, and it always kept coming back to that. Then I got serious about looking at space, writing a business plan, and seeing if it could work. There were certainly obstacles, but by and large the universe was definitely pointing me in this direction so I just decided to go for it.
G: I love that. Tell me about the obstacles. It sounds like you had the end game in mind, but in starting a business it’s always those things we don’t know about or learn along the way that are there and can be challenging.
A: The first thing I did was look for a space. It was January of 2013, and I was ready to figure out what my next moves would be. I peeked in the window of the store, which was up for rent, and I thought it would be perfect. I knew I needed some help in writing a business plan and so I was lucky enough to work with a few retired businessmen who help individuals starting up. It’s tough for sure starting up a business and securing a loan, but my husband, who works in finance, has been so supportive and helpful. He never doubted my ability to make it successful. At the end of the day, it is as big risk. I had this vision, but I didn’t really know what it was going to look like in reality. I felt for sure that there was a niche for a shop like this in Downers Grove, but you can’t assume anything.
G: It sounds like you had a very clear vision for the store and what you wanted to offer to the community. Tell me about that vision. What is the essence of the store about?
A: I always had friends who were creative. They were makers and they were artists, and back when I was in college, there was no Etsy. There were no craft festivals, or an online presence for people who made things. I always used to joke with my friends that I was going to open up a place where they could sell their wares. There was nothing like that at the time. So even then I had that idea to have a place with an artisanal flair, but was also casual and fun and energetic and young. I grew up in Downers Grove and I always shopped the businesses here, but there were things I knew I couldn’t get or weren’t being offered in a lot of the local stores at that time, and I just wanted it to be a fun place with good music playing and a comfortable atmosphere for people to shop locally.
G: I love the idea that someone’s craft can be offered up as a gift or as something to purchase. Tell me about the importance to you of shopping local and sourcing in our community. And what do you feel the value is in that?
A: I have been featuring local artisans and makers since day one. It is such a pleasure meeting talented people from the area, getting to know them, showing off, and hopefully selling their work. One of my vendors Becky, the incredible poncho maker, even started working part-time at the shop last year! I love having this local representation and the customers love it too.Over time, I have been able to hone in on what I need to offer and what the community seems to want. In that I have discovered that the community likes to buy fair trade items, or merchandise with meaning in one way or another. So now it is a blend of different sources. I have also evolved to a place where I have rounded out my collection, so that I have a variety of different price points, based on demand within the community. I still offer a lot of artisanal or handmade items, or things made in the USA, but what I have learned from that is that of course you can have a vision, and you have to be true to that vision, but you also have to be flexible enough to find and offer what your customers are asking for and to appeal to as many of my customers as you can.
G: You used the phrase “merchandise with meaning”. What does that mean to you? What do you hope your customers experience while here or take out of here when they leave the store?
A: One thing that I hear over and over, which I love, is that customers will see something and say that it is something they have never seen before in another store. To me that is the greatest compliment. I love finding fair trade items or items made in communities that give opportunities to the women making the items, or women who have been victims of human trafficking. Those things have always appealed to me, and I have been pleasantly surprised at how much that appeals to my customers as well. It is such a win-win.
G: I love that there is an ask for that. We live in a time when we can go online and order something from Amazon that can be delivered later that day. It’s an interesting time for local small business owners in light of this climate.
A: We all shop that way. As the owner of a local brick and mortar store, it’s always something that is looming. I find that it’s not that big of an issue though. People in this community definitely want to support their local businesses. They don’t want to see vacant shops. One thing that I pride myself on and I really strive for is to make the experience of shopping in my store special. To create an experience in such a way that it makes people want to come in to the store. I also offer things that may not be that easy to find online in that marketplace. I also try to be very fair in my pricing. Most of all I do really believe that the experience and the relationships that are formed with my customers in shopping here is enough to keep them coming here.
G: I am so glad to hear that. Tell me about opening your second store and what it has meant to you.
A: It’s been a great experience. I love to do this, so it’s just been fun expanding what I do. It’s been doing well and it’s exciting to see that there is another town supporting a shop like this. It’s been hard to be away from and missing my customers here, but I am building new relationships with customers there, and at the heart of this for me it’s all about building relationships. I have enjoyed getting to meet new people in my own way, as the local shopkeeper.
G: Tell me about how you manage it all. Running your own business is more than a full-time job, and you are a Mom and have a lot of different roles in your life. What keeps you afloat?
A: I love what I do. Work-life balance of course is a challenge, and sometimes I end up working at night or at home. Some people unwind by reading a book, but I never mind doing my work. I have an amazing husband who is totally supportive and knew going into this that he would be involved both at home and at the shop. Having family support from him and my parents has been absolutely essential. And I have a great staff. I have people that I trust. I have great friends and we reciprocate helping each other out. I have learned to not be afraid to ask for help. They say “it takes a village”, but it’s true.
My 10 year-old son is very aware of how much I work, and we call it “our business”. I think it’s important for him to know that if I miss a game or I am out of town on a buying trip that it’s never more important than him. I also think it’s important for my son to see me follow my dreams, and to have an example of what it looks like to go out and do something that makes you happy and be successful. I think those are good values for him to see, and that helps me with that Mom guilt. My friends really helped me to see that. A fulfilled parent is an important example for your child.
G: What would you tell someone out there who has a dream or a vision, but is afraid to take a risk?
A: I think you have to listen to that inner voice. Intuition is so key. I think people need to really tune into that. The answers aren’t always right there. You have to find your way of listening to your voice and looking for that direction. It’s there, but I think we are all too busy to slow down and listen to it. I would also say to find who your support people are and lean on them. Find the people that believe in you and will encourage you. And realizing that if it doesn’t work out it’s not going to define you. There is always something else out there.
For more about Amy and to visit Evelyn Jane Boutique, visit www.evelynjaneboutique.com. And don’t forget to shop Small Business Saturday on November 24.