In 1994 my neighbor Karen and I decided to open a gift shop. We scouted locations and found a cute, affordable spot in sleepy Wauconda, Illinois.
We spent an afternoon floating in her pool, swilling vodka and tonic while dreaming up a name. Whimsical Rose was soon on her way to retail stardom.
For start-up money we turned to our husbands. Mine didn’t quite get how we thought we would succeed. He asked me how often we planned to “turn our inventory.” I thought he meant turn it around on the shelves and dust it. With understandable reluctance he finally ponied up.
We signed a lease, painted the walls pale yellow and sewed curtains to hide our storage area, a shoe box size annex by the bathroom. We turned a Victorian buffet into our check out counter. At an architectural salvage warehouse we purchased an early 20th century mantle, complete with book shelves on each side. I painted a blazing fire with faux malachite surround, and we popped it into the center.
Karen has marvelous champagne taste. Ours was more of a beer budget. Never-the-less, several fun trips to the Chicago Merchandise Mart and inventory soon rolled in.
Thanks to our many neighbors the grand opening grossed nearly $1000.00! That was our best day. Shortly thereafter we learned opening a gift shop in Wauconda, Illinois was a bit like opening a lemonade stand in a cul-de-sac. Very few customers. Very little income.
With no money for inventory we had to get creative. Gathering up all the clear glass vases we could get our hands on, I began a cottage industry. I painted the vases with flowers and a new source of income was born. My lonely days being a “shop girl” were subsequently spent hand-painting everything from wine glasses to olive oil bottles to pitchers.
Further, we knew a woman specializing in original artwork and cut a deal to show different artists in our shop, taking a percentage of sales. My particular favorite, Carla Messer, painted Dutch school realistic oils ranging in price from $3,000 to well over $15,000.
One Saturday a well dressed, affluent looking couple strolled into the shop. I noted she was beautifully groomed, wearing a St. John knit suit, carrying a Chanel bag, and oozing class, He had on a dark cashmere overcoat and obviously good shoes. They spent a very long time studying those paintings. They were enchanted by one in particular–a long, narrow painting of small green apples in a row. The apples were so realistic I felt I could reach onto the canvas, pick one out and take a crisp tart bite. The price was $3500.00.
I schmoozed them a bit, praying they would purchase those tart green apples. No deal. They did, however, buy a cute little vase.
Eventually we sold two Messer canvases. Karen, she of the champagne taste, bought them. Her first choice, those beautiful green apples. They have graced the walls of her homes since the mid-nineties.
Somehow, by hook or by crook we kept Whimsical Rose afloat for four years. It was a terrific experience, from which my future business as decorative painter was born.
Fast forward eleven years and the well-dressed man, now a widower, and I, now divorced, got married. I’ve asked Jim if he remembers me from Whimsical Rose. No, but he remembers the apples. He wanted to purchase–his lovely wife, Toni, not so much.
We still have the vase, a sweet reminder of the curious day our lives intersected.