Mary Billings, owner of Love of Character, Wichita, KS
Over two years ago, I was flying back from a fabulous trip to Florida. I helped throw a baby shower for my cousin and "dream life planned" with my now creative partner, Aunt Mary. We had visited the Rifle Paper Co. flagship store and our minds were racing with the dreams we shared for many years to open a beautiful store of our own. Flying home, I wrote out all of my shop dreams in an O Magazine (it was about transforming your life, so it seemed like the obvious dream pad choice).
Fast forward two+ years and the plan has been in action. I started with an Etsy shop, then expanded to a website. Aunt Mary and I attended our first NSS in 2015 and fell in love with so many great brands. It truly is a great show to find stationery makers. After expanding my offered lines, I worked on fun orders and was even convinced to setup a booth a large local shopping event. Wichita had an open gap in the market for a pretty paper and party supply store, and I knew I wanted to be the one to fill it. I kept checking commercial real estate websites for available spaces and was discouraged by the high rent prices. My husband and I looked at an affordable space close to our neighborhood, and as much as I wanted to see the potential, it gave me a lot of anxiety. Not a great first impression. I obviously love character, but I also love basic functionality. I was a little discouraged on making my dream work.
Then, after talking with my cousin, I realized there was potential with another neighborhood gem. I had to find out more. I reached out to the landlord and he was able to show me the space. I LOVED IT! I seriously walked in and my heart melted. We had walked by a couple (few) times before I was able to see the inside and I was so excited to actually get in there. It didn't disappoint and I couldn't refuse. Kirstie Alley had rented the space prior and put up gorgeous hand stamped, peach wallpaper. It's so bright and cheery and at the same time, neutral. The old tin ceiling, an amazing touch of character, especially with crown molding. There are large windows along the South and West side that let in gorgeous natural light, perfect for photos.
After two years, I still loved the plans I had jotted down in that magazine and the large rectangle space was perfect for making it a reality. I setup retail in the front half of the store and used the back half as an event space (business in the front, party in the back!). To separate the space, we put up two of the largest IKEA cube shelving units, which worked great because they provide ample shelf space on the retail side. I shopped around town for great antique tables to use for displays and mixed in a couple tables and shelves found online. I wanted the space to make people happy the minute they stepped inside. At NSS in 2016, I was so excited to order from more great brands to offer in the shop! I wanted things that couldn’t be found in other local shops and things that would brighten a customer’s day. I am still blown away by how much people can spend when they come in to the shop and want to stock up on fun cards, beautiful cards and pretty office supplies.
When I first opened up last summer, I decided to keep my day job as an accountant and only open the shop on the weekends. The response blew me away and by October, I was ready to jump in 100%. I once read an inspiring quote about needing to believe in yourself 100% before others will believe in you. Taking that leap of faith was the best thing I have done. A couple of weeks ago, my inspiration and creative partner, Aunt Mary was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. Obviously devastated, I found comfort knowing we made this dream a reality and I am truly living my life happily with a successful business we dreamed up. I have been truly touched by the vendors I work with and how easily I was able to get some of them to send her touching gifts. I have truly made great friends in the stationery world and always love seeing my favorite brands, shops and blogs grow!Want more Stationery Stories? Read them here.