This is the story of how Little Crystal Bijoux came to be.
I have always had a fondness of jewelry and accessories. That perfect pair of earrings to really set off a new hairstyle. That little pop of color in a necklace to bring life to a neutral top, or add personal style to a work suit or uniform. Stacks of bracelets and rings…what a great way to compliment a perfect manicure! That sexy little anklet to welcome summer’s warmth. A piece of jewelry can be sentimental. It can be a pick-me-up. It can make you smile. For some, jewelry is fun to collect. For others, a few carefully curated pieces will satisfy. And sometimes, for me it was often, you just can’t find what you’ve been dreaming of. And then one day, I spotted a couple of necklaces at an antique shop…not quite the style for which I was looking, but the stones were *perfect* for a pair of earrings for which I had searched for so long. As I was buying these necklaces, I was wondering how difficult could it be to make earrings? So with my new treasures in hand, I went home and searched the internet for just that: how to make earrings. And that is where the story of Little Crystal Bijoux began.
After making several pieces of jewelry for myself, and countless gifts for friends and family, friends began to ask if I could make something that they described. Most often, I was able to do this. After presenting a friend with a new collection of beach-inspired jewelry, she suggested that when I make something for friends, I should make one or two more, and look for a venue like an art show at which to sell them. My husband, Cary, and my dad, Dean, were excited at the thought, and encouraged me to channel my love of for art and design into what just might become a career. So, a website was developed. And that is when Little Crystal Bijoux became a business.
I admit, I was (and still am) very choosy about which shows I would buy a table. Flea markets are great…but they’re more for people looking to make treasures out of someone else’s once-loved things. They are not the best of places to launch a new jewelry collection! So, I focused on events that featured my fellow artists and makers; that is to say, I love an event where most of the vendors make their inventory themselves. And, my neighborhood in Southeast Baltimore County, Dundalk, has LOTS of parks, and the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation, our local Community Development Corporation, organized the local events at which I was most successful. It was at their end-of-the-year holiday celebration, Holiday Hoopla, where DRC’s Community Engagement Coordinator asked me if I would like to work with her to launch a Pop-Up Shop the following year in the Historic Dundalk Village Shopping Center; likely around the holiday season. With enthusiasm, I jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with DRC, and October 2013 is when Little Crystal Bijoux became a brick-and-mortar business.
Season one of the Pop-up Shop was wildly successful. Along with fellow makers sharing the space, Little Crystal Bijoux delighted local shoppers with hand-crafted, often custom-made jewelry for themselves and to give as gifts to friends and loved ones. I loved the warm reception I received from the community, and decided that when my Pop-up Shop closed for the season, I would look for a small space to lease in the Historic Dundalk Village Shopping Center. 1-A Center Place, a petite and narrow 212 square foot former ground-floor office was not only available, but also most importantly, affordable! To me this space was the perfect little jewel box to design, make, showcase, and sell my work. In February of 2014, I signed a lease. And that is when Little Crystal Bijoux became a permanent brick-and-mortar shop.
1-A Center Place is a great space, don’t get me wrong. Customers loved the novelty of the tiny shop. My fellow travelers loved the space because it reminded them of the tiny shops you’ll find all over Europe. We even won the Baltimore County Best New Business in a Commercial Revitalization Zone 2014 Award. But that said, it is really easy to out-grow a 212 square foot space. Business was good…there just wasn’t enough room to hang artwork or expand into accessories such as handbags or winter essentials like hats and scarves. And though I wanted to expand, I also loved the shopping center, and my customers knew where to find me. So, imagine my delight when a commercial building went up for sale about fifty feet down the road, the same road on which I was already located, at 7 Center Place
Backing up a bit, DRC has been supportive of not only Little Crystal Bijoux, but also all of the businesses in our Main Street. One of the ways they support us local entrepreneurs is regular Main Street Business Group meetings, where DRC connects local businesses with resources to help us grow, like connecting the group with Kim Taylor, Small Business Counselor for the Baltimore County Small Business Resource Center. Kim told us about a loan program through Baltimore County called the Boost Fund, where some of the money generated from Maryland’s video slot machines is put into a fund where small businesses that qualify can borrow up to $200,000.00 with budget-friendly down-payments and interest rates. She also put us in touch with the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to explore their small business loan programs. With information about these two sources for loans, in August of 2015, my husband, Cary, and I formally entered into a contract to buy the building at 7 Center Place. Immediately after, I began the long application process as well as writing a business plan, with which Amy Menzer, DRC’s Executive Director, and Tasha Gresham-James, DRC’s Housing Initiatives Manager, provided endless (and seemingly tireless) support in the form of proof-reading and editing (as well as much-needed moral support). And, after 11 very stressful months, on July 12, 2016, Cary and I signed a mortgage and were given the keys to 7 Center place. And that’s when Little Crystal Bijoux expanded, and became a permanent fixture to the Historic Dundalk Village Shopping center.
With our down payment, funds were pretty tight for all of the renovations (mostly cosmetic) needed to open for business. We applied for a Commercial Improvement Grant from the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation, and were awarded enough money to add to our savings to make all of the improvements at once, instead of having to prioritize projects in order of importance. And after a couple months of work, Little Crystal Bijoux had its Grand Re-Opening on September 10, 2016.
From here, we continue to write the chapters in this book, looking forward to each new opportunity. And, with gratitude for all who have helped us along this journey, I fondly reflect upon, and hope to inspire fellow entrepreneurs with Little Crystal Bijoux’s journey from idea, to a website/festival business, to a pop-up shop, to a leased space, to finally, commercial property ownership.