On Friday, Dec. 30, between 3:00-5:00, please join me in raising a glass to a very special 35 year old: Nell Hill’s. In honor of our 35th year in business, we want to pause and celebrate, to gather together and share stories about the fun that has happened in this special place, and dream about what is still to come.
Back in 1981, I was a fresh-faced kid of 25, starting my career in Wichita, when my dad called me with a cockamamie idea: Quit your job, move back home to Atchison, and open a gourmet food store. For better or worse, I’ve always followed my intuition when it comes to making big life decisions. And this time, my gut said: Go for it! I gave notice that day and started an adventure that has given me so much joy in life I feel like I can hardly contain it. I’ve made my best friends at this store, lived some of my best moments here, and never regretted my decision, even in the early years, when the day’s receipts at the Gourmet Corner barely covered my expenses. (Every year, my irrepressibly optimistic father would say, “Next year is going to be your year, Mary Carol!”)
In 1985, we changed the store to Nell Hill’s, in honor of my grandmother Nell, and switched our focus to something I am much, much more passionate about: helping people create interior spaces they love. Soon, we began to grow. And grow. And grow. And so did the fun. Since 97 percent of our customers traveled more than an hour to shop at Nell Hill’s, we wanted to make it worth their while.
So we started having a blast experimenting with new and inventive ways to remake the store every few weeks. Our goal was to make shopping at Nell Hill’s feel like an adventure and an inspiration. We wanted groups of friends to come and spend the day, and leave not only with shopping bags filled with treasures, but their hearts filled as well. As we caught the national media’s attention, we got more opportunities to have fun: we grew the number of stores, published nine home decorating books and a syndicated decorating column, launched lines of custom products and even ended up on TV a few times.
If our effort to spark shock and awe in our customers, we’ve done some pretty crazy things. This year, we found an old rusty truck in a junk yard, hauled it to the store, then outfitted it with a Christmas tree. Other schemes didn’t work so well. Like the year I wanted our Atchison store to look like a garden center, so we spread tons of gravel along the pathways inside Nell Hill’s. Little boys kicked up the gravel, which let off so must dust, it ruined the store’s furnace!
My goal throughout my career was to have fun as we grew the business. And, the past 35 years have been a pearl necklace of wonderful memories for me, things that still make me laugh today. Like the time Dan came down for his morning coffee, dressed in nothing but his boxers, to find the house filled with ladies decorating for one of our big holiday open houses. (After that, he always left town when we had the spring, fall and holiday open house at our home in Atchison).
All the times our Golden Retriever Cinnamon was arrested by the Atchison police, after bolting out the shop’s front door in pursuit of a dog that passed by. The photo finishes we had decorating my home for tour, finishing just as the doorbell rang. Of the families and friends who have made visiting Nell Hill’s a part of their annual traditions, grown-up daughters who are now bringing their own little girls here.
After 35 years of my dream job, I’ve learned three things about finding success in your career. First, you have to be passionate about what you do. Your career can’t just be about the bottom dollar: It has to be something you find exciting and fulfilling. Second, you have to be flexible, because things don’t often turn out like you think they will. Finally, you must be persistent, and get up and ride that horse every single day.
To say thank you to all of you in our Nell Hill’s family, new and old, I’d love you to join us on Dec. 30, 3:00-5:00, to raise a toast to friendship, and creating beautiful lives together.
Next Week … Artwork can transform the look of your rooms. I’ll share tips for creative artwork displays.