- Jun 19, 2019
July 2019 is the ninth annual Independent Retailer Month, designed to highlight the positive social and economic aspects of independent businesses and to encourage consumers to support their local stores. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Illinois has approximately 1.2 million small businesses under 500 employees and almost 95,000 of those are retailers.
Despite the enormous pressures placed on them by online and big box retail, independent retailers continue to play vital roles in their communities as employers, taxpayers, and gathering places. What inspires Northbrook entrepreneurs to take on the challenges of running an independent retail operation?
Chris Bates, Art Post Gallery, enjoys the deep roots her business has grown in the community. In 1980, she purchased the original Art Post, a framing and art supply store next to Little Louie’s with a small space for original art sales. The business evolved into a fine art gallery that offers framing as a service, now located at Willow Festival.
The nature of Chris’s business relies on the store’s physical presence in the community. While people may go online to buy prints or photographs, customers investing in large-scale art need to experience the work in person. Chris allows in-home viewings of pieces to ensure that the client is happy with their selections. Framing, delivery, and personal service are all elements supported by the brick-and-mortar store.
“We’ve maintained a very loyal customer base throughout the years,” notes Chris. “We now serve three generations of clients who know us and trust us.”
For Brian Millman, Shellé Jewelers, the family business is a way to connect with people as they celebrate memorable occasions. As the third generation to carry on the company founded by Sheldon Millman in Chicago, Brian frequently sees clients who remember picking out their first pieces of jewelry with his father or grandfather. The Millmans relocated the business to Northbrook in 2008 after long periods in Chicago and Glencoe, taking advantage of the opportunity to purchase their own building. Northbrook also offered easy access to the highways, enabling Shellé Jewelers to maintain its longtime relationships with clients all over the North Shore, Chicago and beyond.
As an independent retailer, Brian makes personal service a top priority. “Shopping for jewelry can be very intimidating. I want every customer who comes in to feel completely welcome,” says Brian. “I’m not in the jewelry business, I’m in the happiness business.”
Lynette Gilbert, Three Bags Full, decided to pursue a long-deferred dream by opening her knitting store/studio 17 years ago. A skilled and enthusiastic knitter, her business has grown into a community-building experience for hobbyists who enjoy taking classes and discovering new products together. On a typical weekday morning, the store is busy with customers learning new techniques, while others knit and chat on sofas surrounded by yarn displays.
“When I started out, our first store was just two rooms in the old Quonset hut building on Walters,” recalls Gilbert. “Over time we’ve built a very consistent community of people who come for workshops, knit nights, and events. People from all walks of life who never would have met become friends here.”