Some women small business owners in Downtown DeKalb have come together to coordinate sales efforts and support one another. The informal group of about ten shop owners meet monthly and participate in shared events four times a year.
“We call it Downtown DeKalb Merchant Group, but it’s not official,” said Sandy Spier of Poppy Seed Primitives.
Lauren Woods opened Cracker Jax, a vintage clothing and gift shop at 118 N Third St in DeKalb in 1984. She had worked in advertising sales, but saw an untapped market in the area for buying and selling vintage clothing. Over three decades and two expansions later, Woods’ store is still going strong.
Though she confesses thinking about her business “every waking hour and minute” and even dreaming about it at night, Woods admits that she can’t do it alone.
“I am very grateful for everyone who works together with me,” said Woods.
That includes her six employees, but also neighboring business owners. She feels that there is particularly a camaraderie among women business owners in Downtown DeKalb, who have developed friendships and are glad to support one another and work together to get results.
Spier, Owner of Poppy Seed Primitives at 255 E. Lincoln Hwy, first opened her antique and home decor store in Genoa in 2006. In 2013, she moved her shop to a much larger location in Downtown DeKalb.
At that time, the city had events but she and Megan Morrison (from now-closed Moxie) were also doing individual events to bring customers to town. Eventually, Spier and several other shop owners started meeting together regularly and organizing coordinated seasonal events with each other.
In addition to Woods and Spier, the group currently includes: Rachel Polly (Urban Grace), Vickie Obermiller (Kid Stuff), Brenda Lehan (S.O.A.S. Apparel & Design), Jana Nowak (Blue Door Decor), Carolyn Canon (MCR Framing), Diane Hosey (Perchance), and Mara and Jeff Metzger (Antique Treasures).
Some of the business owners, like Woods, have been around for several decades, while others like Nowak from Blue Door Decor are brand new. Spier believes that mix is great, because older shop owners can share their expertise, while newer business owners often have great ideas that the group hasn’t thought of before.
“We’ve realized pulling together as a group just makes us stronger,” said Spier. “We all have a lot invested and we all know that we’re better if everyone succeeds, so we’re willing to help each other.”
The four seasonal events the group participates in are the Vintage Shop Hop in Spring, Summer sidewalk sales, Fall Open House, and a Christmas event. The Vintage Shop Hop is their most successful event, with the largest turnout and many people coming from out of the area. Their summer sidewalk sale event raises money for local charities.
Even though the shops have similarities, they are all unique and compliment one another. The store owners are competitive, but they also point their customers to other shops.
“Being the only person in town is not good,” said Spier. “[People] knowing that they can grab lunch and then shop around for the afternoon at lots of different shops makes [DeKalb] a more desirable destination.”
During the group’s monthly meetings, as well as planning the seasonal events they brainstorm ideas, discuss challenges they face both personally and professionally, and share things that they’ve learned. For instance, Rachel Polly recently went to a marketing presentation and then shared that information with the group. At the most recent meeting they talked about a gift basket they were putting together for Richard Jenkins when he came to the Egyptian Theatre.
The members of the group have also gotten to know each other on a personal level. They all recently went to Sycamore’s fall open house and then had a nice dinner together afterwards.
“When you get to know someone on a personal level it changes your business relationship, too,” said Spier. “It has really made a huge difference, because now we’re not afraid to tell each other when we are struggling with something and maybe they’ve gone through it before. We say it in our meetings how blessed we are that we have that support amongst each other, because probably in some towns it’s not that way.”
Leslie Snyder from Antiques Vintage Collectibles & Gifts retired, but is still an important part of the group, even though she no longer has a business.
“I think that speaks volumes about [the group],” said Spier. “She still cares about Downtown. She still cares about us and she wants to help.”
So while some businesses have come and gone, new ones join in and the group will hopefully continue to grow.
“It’s about wanting everyone to succeed, not just all about yourself,” Spier said. “I’m blessed to be able to do what I do and be part of Downtown and all of the awesome changes that are happening.”