Small Business Profile: Jamie and Ashley Hewitt, Owners of Arlee Park - Minneapolis
Hi Jamie and Ashley! Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Hi! We are twin sisters, Jamie and Ashley. We are self-taught photographers and goods slingers. As twins, we are extremely tight-knit and live only 8 blocks apart on the same street. We are both married to wonderful husbands that support us in chasing our dreams.
What were your first jobs?
Our first jobs in high school and even into college were retail focused positions. After college, we both went our separate ways for only a few years. Jamie began working at a staffing agency and transitioned from administrative work to the Marketing Coordinator role. Ashley worked at a bank handling agriculture stock accounts in an office setting. After some major life changes, including losing our father to cancer, we both quit our day-jobs after being presented with an opportunity to travel around Asia. After a couple months of traveling and keeping a blog of travel photos from our adventures, we had a cousin ask us to take photos of her kiddo. That’s how our photography business evolved starting with families and children and not long after, we started taking on weddings full-time in 2012.
What led you to begin Arlee Park?
While Ashley was planning her 2014 wedding, we would go to thrift stores in search of brass pieces for her table décor. Not long after, Jamie was planning her wedding, as well and deciding to reuse most of Ashley’s pieces along with incorporating ceramics, so more thrifting ensued. After finding some unique pieces, we thought it would be fun to list some finds on Etsy, where you can sell vintage items. This became a little side project during the quieter winter months. We held a couple pop-ups at Jamie’s home in the fall/winter of 2016 and after stumbling upon our corner space for lease, we decided it was time to take Arlee Park the brick-and-mortar route.
How was the process from transitioning from an Etsy shop to a brick and mortar retail space?
All-in-all it was a great deal of hard work, which we’re always prepared for. It seemed easy in a sense that we already knew the basics for the in-person shopping experience with retail backgrounds and having hosted a couple pop-ups at Jamie’s home. We are incredibly lucky to have the most supportive and talented husbands by our sides to help with all of the build-out of our space. We wanted to keep a lot of the old charm of the space, but with a fresh modern look. We spent countless hours to get the business up and running in 3 months. We made sure to plan accordingly every step of the way and we opened as expected on April 1st! Now that we made the shift from online to a retail space, we’re hoping to get back online again in the very near future.
How do you source your products? Do you travel or find most of the pieces nearby?
We source our pieces mainly locally here in the Twin Cities, but when we travel, we find ourselves popping into thrift stores and sifting through their goods in hopes of finding something unique to bring back to our MN shop.
Do you think your previous photography work helps to capture and showcase the beautiful, unique items in the shop?
It definitely has been a plus in terms of skipping that learning curve and being able to present our pieces and our shop in a consistent manner right off the bat.
What does shopping sustainably and ethically mean to you and your business? Is this something that you see is important to your customers?
It’s the basis of what we are doing at Arlee Park. Whether a visit to Arlee Park sparks someone to start shopping secondhand or we become a shopping staple to someone that only shops secondhand, we feel we’ve accomplished a small part in helping our earth.
What is your favorite thing about your workspace?
Arlee Park is always changing, whether it’s the inventory, the layout, the new faces that walk through the door, the conversations that are started, it’s a place where we want people to feel more than a location where you can find secondhand goods, but a place where everyone feels welcome and at peace.
It seems like your career paths have always intertwined from starting a photography business before having your shop. Did you both anticipate working as a twin sister team?
Yes! That was always our goal. We knew in college we wanted to have a business together, but at the time we weren’t sure what that was going to be. We had always discussed a boutique of sorts, but at the time way back then, I think we had both envisioned a retail business focused on apparel.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
Multiple things truly spark our passion about this work. Like previously mentioned, we’re serious about the social aspect of reusing goods and doing our part in showing individuals it can be done in a visually pleasing way. Being photographers, we love handing over images that are more works of art showcasing the environment and not just a simple photograph. At Arlee Park, we’re able to still fuel our creative sides and hand over goods in a different form that have just as much meaning in the big picture. Most of all, it’s showing others to chase your dreams, especially all those female go-getters out there. We’re on this beautiful earth for an unknowing amount of time. If you’re motivated and ready to tackle a dream you’ve thought about, do it. It’s a lot of hard work, but you have to be determined and put in long hours and as cliché as it is, some blood, sweat and tears.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you faced when starting Arlee Park?
Time is always the one in charge! We were always setting goals and managing our time when it came to deadlines with certain projects. This was important when it came to opening the store on time. Honestly, there was challenge after challenge, but when you have a supportive family by your side, these challenges only become a small obstacle to figure out together. If we didn’t have our handy husbands by our sides, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in the development of your business?
Without a doubt, a great tool has been Instagram. It’s such a visual social media platform and has been beneficial in bringing in local customers and even customers scattered about the country. Never did we think that we’d be selling items through Instagram, but it’s been a great outlet for people that aren’t local to purchase items that we’re able to send.
The best resources we’ve had are the people around us. We’ve met an abundance of such amazing people that come in our door daily. It’s always simple conversations that spark unpredictable relationships. We’re grateful for the many talented and creative individuals in Minneapolis.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
We’re always inspired when we hear stories of women starting their own business. No matter what the business might be, it’s conversations that will inspire others and foster healthy relationships. Certain business aspects are fairly transferable and educating others from experience is valuable, even if you aren’t in the same industry. Being able to share and to offer advice will only push others to do better. A community supporting one another as a whole will only generate an overall wellness amongst everyone involved no matter what their venture may be.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
We’ve made some great connections with fellow shop-keepers and business owners in the area. Erin, the owner of Golden Rule, is one of the most kind-hearted and driven beings we’ve met on the retail scene. Vanessa, co-owner of Italian Eatery, became an instant best friend and is always wise with her advice. We’ve truly been lucky to have met so many great women who own businesses. We also find Kelly & Emma of MEEK Vintage incredibly inspiring and hope to make an in person connection someday.
What have you learned from owning your company that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
Be original. We’ve always mentioned that we aren’t doing anything brand new, but we’re doing it in a different way. There are vintage stores a plenty in almost every city and town, but just like any creative outlet, you must do something that’s truly authentic. We noticed a gap in the Twin Cities area that we wanted to fill, mostly with our presentation of our items and the environment of Arlee Park. Customers have noticed and comment on this all the time. You’re not going to stand out by doing what someone else has done, especially in your own city. Really take the time to find your own way in all aspects of your business. It’s great to incorporate some inspiration from here and there, but let your creation truly be a product and representation of yourself.
What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
We are extremely excited to jump into our first holiday shopping season. With that, we have some fun collaborations in the works to bring some exclusive lines of maker’s creations into the shop. We will be popping-up in more places around the Twin Cities in the coming months. We’re also working on some styling projects with local businesses to add a little Arlee Park flare into their spaces.
How do you manage a work/life balance?
This is so very important in keeping a healthy personal and business lifestyle. You have to know when you’ve done enough in a 24-hour span. When you own two businesses, you find yourself working 7 days a week and small business owners can relate to the fact that it’s sometimes difficult to disconnect from any of it. If you have a family, you must put them first, but it’s also important they understand sacrifices must be made. That’s why having a strong support system in your daily relationships matters and always thanking them for that support. Develop a strong team. You want to be surrounded by people that are cheering you on. We have a small and strong team at Arlee Park right now and it will most likely be growing in the coming months.
What are some of your favorite places in Minneapolis?
Golden Rule has the best hand selected small batch items ever. Situated in an actual house in one of the quaintest parts of the Twin Cities outskirts, you’ll be instantly captivated by the shop’s offerings and the best staff you’ll ever meet. Botany Coffee is a new and brilliant coffee destination that will keep your mind clear and your caffeine needs satisfied! They also serve some of the most lovely pastry treats if a little hunger sets in. Young Joni seems like the ultimate date night scenario. Fill your belly full of delicious pizza and make your way to the speakeasy down the alley post-dinner.