Naysayers told Kristen Held that the struggling economy was hard on small businesses, but that didn't stop her from opening Sweet Boutique gift shop in Clayton this October.
She saw the lack of gift shops in Clayton as an opportunity and decided to fill the need.
“I felt like the timing was right. Other areas are just full to the brim with gift shops,” she said.
(See related on Patch: Sweet Boutique: Sweet Gifts for the Holidays)
Clayton also happens to be close to her new home in University City, which is a good thing as Held keeps the shop open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
She told Patch that she always wanted to open a gift shop of her own and enjoys helping people find the right present.
“I always liked giving gifts. I can remember being in college and I still gave everyone of my nieces and nephews a gift for Christmas. I did without so I could make sure I could give somebody a gift. It wasn’t about going to Macy’s on Black Friday. It’s about giving them what they would like,” she said.
Held stocks her shelves with gifts for all occasions from baby showers, weddings, birthdays and major holidays. A native St. Louisian, Held likes to carry locally made goods and American products.
“I have a counter-active mentality of gift giving. If I see another idea in a gift shop—that’s probably not what I’m going to carry. A lot of time you go to gift shops and they all have the same lines. I like to find unique and different things. Of course, there’s always going to be trends, but I’ll try to find something different,” she said.
A candy counter provides the sweet side of the boutique, with chocolate dipped confections she makes herself. She creates her own truffles, molded chocolates and chocolate dipped treats.
She is currently renting a commercial kitchen off site for her chocolate making, but hopes to add a kitchen to the shop next year.
Held learned her craft in her mother’s kitchen, where she was the youngest of seven children. She also soaked up a good work ethic from her family—her father was a carpenter and her mother ran the office end of his construction business. Like her siblings, she put herself through college, and graduated from Mizzou with a fine arts degree.
She said she learned a lot about business and pairing flavors from her 10 years at Starbucks, where she was a Coffee Master. She wants her store to avoid Starbucks' cookie cutter look, but she’s embraced their idea of corporate responsibility and giving back to the community.
Instead of running sales, Held invites local charities to hold shopping nights at her store, like a recent event she held for Stray Rescue. She offers the charity a portion of the day’s sales and customers get to have a fun shopping experience. The group can bring in their own food and Sweet Boutique can provides the wine and drinks.
She said the shopping nights are better for both her shop and the charity. She said she hand out a candle to every charity that asks for a donation, but they have the chance to earn so much more with by hosting an event at her store.
“It’s a better way for them to get more bang for their buck,” she said.