Dreaming Big

Think a small shop in a small town can’t make it in today’s economy? One store proves it’s possible with steady growth and abundant inspiration.
by : 

Jayne Denker

May 1, 2011

Some people might not have thought a small New Age store could survive in a relatively conservative town of fewer than 10,000 people, much less through the past three years of a rocky economy. But don’t tell that to Anne DeClue. Six years ago, she was inspired to open a shop in her small town after going through a spiritual transformation of her own. She just had “a feeling,” she says, and acted on it.

DeClue, a former reading tutor, had earned a master’s degree in teaching literacy, but “I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that [as a career],” she says. Then she read an anecdote in one of Doreen Virtue’s books about a woman who opened an angel-themed store, and it really struck a chord. “My spirituality was evolving, and I wanted to open a store that focused on that,” DeClue says.

One evening in late August 2004, she drove past a pretty little commercial space—a yellow colonial house with white trim. “I thought, ‘That’s what my store would look like.’” When the business in the building closed a year later, and the place was empty, she says, “I was the first one to call the real estate agent.”

DeClue signed the lease on September 1, 2005, and Peaceful Inspirations opened its doors less than four months later, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

That yellow house is located at the edge of a retail district in Delmar, N.Y., a small town 10 minutes outside of Albany with a population of just over 8,000. It’s a conservative area, DeClue says, and when people discover her store, their initial reaction, more often than not, is “I can’t believe there’s a store like this here!”

Top shop

DeClue enjoys the reaction and sees her location as a unique opportunity to bring spiritual ideas and services to the area. She does such a good job that Peaceful Inspirations has been voted “best holistic shop” in a local newspaper poll for five years running.

Not bad for a business that started with a few Buddhist and Hindu items, some candles, singing bowls, and a selection of Kheops and Hay House products. Now she employs three part-time workers (including her daughter; her husband Larry also helps out) and prides herself on stocking as many products as the 600 square feet of retail space will hold.

DeClue says, “The store looks small, but there are a lot of things in here,” including her bestsellers: jewelry, crystals, books, candles, and Heartful Art magnets (“We’ve sold more than 800 of them,” she says), as well as meditation CDs, statuary, drums and other Native American items, flags, salt lamps, tarot and oracle cards, greeting cards, and incense.

Although she carries items from distributors such as New Leaf and Kheops, half her inventory consists of fair trade and “consciously made” products, many purchased from small, independent, and/or family-run businesses. She gets her stones from Jessie’s Gems and Vicjon Enterprises; soy candles from Way Out Wax; those popular magnets from Heartful Art; Native American drums, dreamcatchers, and rattles from a local Native craftswoman; Pagan products from Dryad Designs; singing bowls from Serenity Tibet; and a variety of items, including jewelry and statues made from recycled brass and aluminum, from Windrose Trading.

“I like speaking directly to business owners,” DeClue says. “And I make sure my customers know I carry items from independent businesses.”

Spiritual guidance

Still an educator at heart, DeClue not only teaches her customers about fair trade practices and the need to support small businesses, but also appreciates the opportunity to guide their personal spiritual journeys.

“What I really like is helping people on a spiritual level, assisting customers who ask for suggestions,” she says. “It’s gratifying when they confide in you and you get to learn more about their personal lives. I can see how so many of my customers have grown over the years; I’m a witness to their unfolding consciousness.”

She especially likes helping parents select spiritual books for and about children. As for the kids themselves, she says, “They want crystals.”

Peaceful Inspirations also helps customers’ spiritual growth by offering a number of classes and workshops each month, new moon drumming circles, and readings every weekend. Customers can keep up with the full slate of events on the store’s website, www.peacefulinspirations.net, and DeClue keeps her mailing list of about 600 subscribers updated with a newsletter that goes out monthly, or more often at the holidays and when there’s a new event to publicize. She now has her sights set on increasing the store’s presence on Facebook.

A metaphysical community

DeClue’s readers and instructors are people she knows well and trusts, including one of her part-time employees and others suggested by people active in the alternative healing and metaphysical community. Some started out as her customers. “They just walked in the door and talked to me,” about doing readings or teaching classes. “I didn’t know so many people in the area did energy work,” she says.

The metaphysical community in Delmar and surrounding areas is tight-knit and supportive. Traffic at DeClue’s shop has been boosted by a nearby healing center, as well as the links to the shop’s website on her readers’ and instructors’ sites. In addition, she says, “Some social workers will send people to the store for relaxation and meditation CDs.”

While some of Peaceful Inspirations’ classes may have a small number of attendees, interest and attendance are growing rapidly. Her biggest success to date was Suren Shrestha’s singing bowl workshops: Realizing that she wouldn’t be able to accommodate the number of people interested in attending, DeClue rented a larger space in a nearby church, and still the workshops’ attendance went over capacity.

“People came from all over,” she says. “We had to turn people away from the group healing sessions.”

Growing interest

In fact, it’s the limited space for classes, which are held in the shop’s recently added back room, and a need for more parking that might draw DeClue out of her cozy retail space as her clientele grows.

The tight economy hasn’t really affected the store, she says, as sales in the early part of the year were slightly more than at the same time in 2010, and more new customers are visiting every day.

“A lot more local people have been coming in,” especially in the past year, DeClue says. “Sometimes they just come in out of curiosity—wondering what the store is all about. More and more, people are looking for the spiritual angle. They find that the items in the shop have meaning instead of just being pretty gifts.”

And there’s always something to keep them coming back, whether they are spiritual seekers or not. They might just enjoy the soothing energy of the store and the “wonderful smell” of the soy candles permeating the shop, or have an interest in learning more about one spiritual subject or another, or want to check out the wide selection of unique items for sale. As long as they find something to make their day more pleasant, DeClue welcomes them and looks forward to their return, she says. “It’s all about enriching people’s lives.”


Profile

Store name: Peaceful Inspirations
Location: 384 Kenwood Drive, Delmar, NY 12054; 518/439-7039
Owner: Anne DeClue
Date opened: November 2005
Website: www.peacefulinspirations.net
Hours: Mon. and Fri., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tues.–Thurs., 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sun. 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Number of employees: 3 part time
Square footage: approx. 600 sq. ft. retail space; 1,000 sq. ft. with classroom
Bestsellers: jewelry, crystals, books, candles, Heartful Art magnets
Favorite wholesalers: New Leaf, Deva Designs, Windrose Trading, Jessie’s Gems
Inventory method: By hand

Jayne Denker is an editor-at-large for New Age Retailer. She lives in a small village in western New York with her husband and son. Visit her at www.dragon-droppings.com or her blog, http://dragondroppings.wordpress.com.