Chilling. Blocktoberfest. Small Business Saturday. Pages rustle as day planners are opened and calendars are coordinated.
Each new event is a new opportunity – one that Grandin Village retailers are putting their heads together to make the most of.
“There is strength in numbers,” Katelynn Lewis, owner of New to Me Consignment Boutique, explained during an informal coffee gathering that has emerged as the eclectic area’s business owners work to collaborate and strategize with one another.
Their group ranges from new shop owners – Lewis bought New to Me in 2020 just before the pandemic started – to long-time retailers such as Ashley Arney, who has run Urban Gypsy for the past 12 years.
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Uniting them is a desire to strengthen Grandin Village’s profile as a go-to destination for the unique and local. Their stores are only a few blocks, sometimes feet, apart. But there is no competitive, winner-take-all mentality that divides them.
“We work together,” said Ashley Curtis, who runs Gray Goose of Grandin, a home decor and antique store, with her mother, Karen Curtis.
The village’s appeal isn’t rooted in a rushed, get-in-and-get-out shopping experience, added Curtis, whose specialty is marketing and online promotions.
The venerable, walkable neighborhood – which also offers restaurants, wine bars and the Grandin Theater – is built around enjoying an afternoon out and exploring all the village has to offer.
“It’s rare that someone drives to Grandin and just runs into a store,” Curtis said. “If you come, you drink and brunch and shop. It’s a whole day. And that’s what we’re trying to promote is the village as a whole.”
The roundtable, which has begun meeting monthly, came about naturally as the neighborhood welcomed an influx of new store owners and as retailers began to lean on each other during the uncertain days of the pandemic.
The group is entirely female-owned, not by design, but as a result of the natural demographics of the district’s shopkeepers. Women in entrepreneurship are on the rise, accounting for nearly half of the new businesses launched in the United States last year, according to the World Economic Forum.
The pandemic, which improved retail sales, had a disproportionately severe impact on women-led ventures, according to the results of a 2020 US Chamber of Commerce survey that sought to sound the alarm about the difficulties facing small businesses. “We cannot allow this pandemic to set back a generation of entrepreneurial women,” Suzanne Clark, chamber president, said at the time. “The health and existence of small businesses is critical to our nation’s economic recovery.”
For the shop owners in Grandin, that crucible led to them forging closer ties with each other.
Karen Curtis, who worked for years at Black Dog Salvage, had just decided to take the plunge into store ownership by purchasing Gray Goose in 2020 – March 2020, to be exact, just days before her life suddenly stopped.
“We needed to be together,” Curtis said of the community she found among Grandin’s business owners. “I don’t know what we would have done during covid without their support.”
It has been brought up to today. Texts, conversations and the sharing of ideas flow in the cluster of stores. The monthly coffee meeting allows them to spend time sharing updates and brainstorming new strategies.
“You have to try new things because retail is changing,” said Laurie Frohock, who has been in business for 13 years but moved to Grandin last year to reveal a larger space for her gift and accessories store, Two and a Half Sisters, which she owns together with his sister and sister-in-law.
The way their new neighbors embraced the store was encouraging, Frohock said. They all realized that they were fighting with the same forces, and that it helps the entire village to draw more attention and foot traffic to Grandin.
Gathered around a table at Grandin Village’s cafe, the Little Green Hive, the group swapped ideas for new poster designs and event promotions. There was talk of serving hot chocolate at the district’s annual holiday parade or coordinating specials and happy hour deals with district restaurants on a designated weekday night.
What if they got bigger?
“Small business weekend,” Ashley Curtis suggested, adding that she’d love to have holiday shoppers come in that Sunday, too.
The holiday season is a crucial quarter for retail, Arney noted, and Grandin’s stores want to go all out.
Things continue to be tough in the industry, even as the world approaches a post-pandemic era, but Arney said partnerships like the ones she’s found with her fellow store owners give her hope.
Running your own small business can sometimes feel like a lonely journey, she said. This is a group that strives to make connections and share both their concerns and their successes.
“That camaraderie is huge. It just gave me the chills, actually, to say that,” said Arney, whose store, Urban Gypsy, carries clothing, gifts and home decor.
“It’s been great to get some fresh blood and new ideas,” she reflected. “I feel like we have momentum.”