Tell us about yourself and your business! What do you do or sell?
I am known as The Wizard of Cute and my shop reflects that vibe. Our shop focuses on handmade and local gifts. A lot of what we sell are things that I make and we offer a wide range of custom merchandise. I make jewelry, candles, and wide range of printed items. Whatever it is, it has to be cute and fun!
Why did you start this business? If you were a superhero, what would your origin story be?
I had a shop in Chicago almost 18 years ago called Monkey Business. That's where I started my jewelry line, niceLena. Parenthood sort of disrupted everything and we closed the shop and eventually moved to Evanston. I ran my jewelry business from home while juggling diapers and kids stuff. Once our girls became more independent, I knew I wanted to build something again. I also wanted a space bigger than our bedroom to make things and a job to interact with other adult humans. If I were a superhero, my origin story would be similar to Pippi Longstocking! A badass orphan (yea, she had a dad but he was lost at sea for a bit) with supernatural powers, chest full of gold coins, and wicked sense of humor. I want to be her when I grow up.
What's the story behind the name of your business?
niceLena started out as my jewelry business name and we added Friends to include other makers. I briefly considered Busy Hands because my hands are always moving and making things but my kids said that sounded gross. LOL. "niceLena" can mean a few different things. It's there to remind myself to be nice and to set a tone. It's also used by my friends when I get too playful and break things. nice..nice, Lena. I also really like the word friends. I'm a very friendly person and I'll be friends with everyone if they'll let me. The first decoration I added to our door was "Let's be friends".
Did you choose the Main-Dempster Mile? Or did it choose you? Tell us the story of selecting your location.
South East Evanston has been our home and community for the past 15 years. Our kids went to Lincoln, Nichols, and ETHS. Our location is perfect. It's walking distance to our home so I can still be available to our girls if they need me. Plus, I'm on Chicago Ave and I can keep up the tradition of only opening up businesses on Chicago Ave. Monkey Business was also on Chicago Ave but in Chicago.
What sets your business apart from others that sell the same products?
What sets us apart from other gift shops is me. I am the business. Most of what you see in the shop are things I dreamt up and made. I often feel like a bakery shop owner, putting out fresh treats. We also offer a wide range of custom gifts, which is so fun for me and the customer. I truly love helping people make something that holds meaning for them and for their loved ones.
What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about opening a business?
Whatever it is, you better love doing it.