I'm sitting here, in my pajamas, wondering how on earth to begin writing this post. It's one that, to be perfectly honest, has been dancing around in the back of my mind for quite some time; consistently pushed back to the furthest corners by the forces of determination, optimism, a little denial, and stubborn belief in what I'd built. But a few months ago, the rational part of myself finally overturned stones of truth I'd long been sidestepping. I had to lift my head and lock eyes with reality--it was time to close Hattie Sparks.
When I first opened the store in February of 2012, I was barely 26 and fresh from a whirlwind of major life changes. I had just gotten married, my husband was taking the Bar Exam, we had just moved into our first home, I'd quit a fairly stable job, and my mother was in the thick of treatments for aggressive breast cancer. With my life's landscape suddenly brand new territory, I felt energized instead of afraid. I had the opportunity to take the momentum of change and make something great out of it. I have always doggedly pursued the things I'm passionate about, and starting the store was no exception--I regained a sense of focus and purpose and made it my mission to bring something new and unique to the New Orleans retail landscape.
Opening the doors on February 27, 2012 was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. After all, I'd quit my job a mere 2.5 months prior, had never been on a buying trip, had zero merchandising skills, and most of my retail experience was corporate, not boutique. Plus, the space I'd leased was a little off the beaten path, with not much visibility. The odds seemed fairly stacked against me from the get-go, but I wholeheartedly believed in the products I was selling and that the customer would eventually find their way to me. Sitting at my desk that first day, looking at the floors Corey had laid down, the racks we'd built out together, the giant rugby stripes I'd painted on the walls, the collection of artists and designers I'd assembled--I had a jolt of courage and faith that things would be ok.
For the next 3.5 years at our first location, I got to know and work with some of the best local and Southern artists, designers, and craftsmen who filled my shop with beautifully made products. We were one of the very first stores to really emphasize the local makers movement, and it's been truly incredible to watch that niche market blossom into something substantial and sustainable in New Orleans. To have the opportunity to observe someone's creative career arc from side hustle to full-time is really amazing, and when I think about how so many of them got their start at Hattie Sparks I feel incredibly fulfilled.
Our first location, while challenging at times, brought some of the most incredibly loyal customers, many of whom turned into friends. I came to love the rhythm of the neighborhood and the faces I'd see several times a week. That little shop also achieved a media presence that sometimes left me feeling a bit out of my league, but I'll continually be grateful to those writers and editors who saw something special in my brand and mission.
When I'd initially started Hattie Sparks, I'd never really dreamed beyond simply keeping the doors open. But, as time passed and the business grew, I began thinking about next steps that had the potential to materialize. I was approached about opening a location in a beautiful new mixed-use development that was committed to filling its spaces with small and locally-owned businesses. Like with my first location, the opportunity to harness the momentum of change and be at the forefront of something new was enticing. So, we made the leap. And the store doubled in size, we rebranded, expanded our product lines, built out an online store, added more staff, took on partners, all while keeping the core mission of the shop the same--striving to provide shoppers with a sense of discovery.
The next two years brought about lots of change. The first location closed, and the second location was an ever-fluctuating entity that seemed to expand then contract; expand then contract; expand then contract. During this time, I began to realize how difficult it was to compete not only with online retailers promising next-day shipping and free returns and fast fashion boutiques selling tops for $35, but also that our hyper-local niche was no longer a niche. It was harder to draw customers in just with the promise of locally-made when they could find it at a multitude of other places. So I adjusted. Brought in very different brands, tweaked the price point, started holding workshops, and partnered with restaurants and companies for special events. Again, it was the same pattern--expand and contract--until one day it felt as though that consistency had come to an end.
Around this time, I was approached by a company that sells retail packages to airports around the country. They wanted to open a Hattie Sparks in the brand new terminal of the New Orleans Airport. I was flattered, but justifiably a little bit cautious. As time passed, and I met with their CEO and more VP's than I can keep track of, I realized that this was our next step. Our primary customer was now from out of town, shopping mainly for gifts and accessories to take home on the airplane as a memento of their time spent in the Big Easy. The airport offered me an opportunity to re-focus on what I'd always set out to achieve--to promote the best of locally-made. With this move, I'm not only going straight to the source of where my customer is coming from, but I'll be able to showcase the products of dozens of local makers to thousands and thousands of eyeballs a day.
After we'd accepted the offer to open in the airport, my life suddenly began to change rapidly much like it had 5 years prior. My beloved grandfather passed away, my husband's contract at his job was coming to an end, and after almost 4 years of trying, I was pregnant! Again, instead of fear I felt a surge of energy and knew that in order to keep this wave of change positive, I'd have to make some hard decisions. It was then that I decided that Hattie Sparks as a brick-and-mortar store was not the best direction for the brand, and that I needed to re-focus my efforts on building out e-commerce and turn my attention wholly toward the new airport project. I knew that this new venture would provide me with the flexibility to accommodate my growing family, and allow me to be fully present for my new child when it arrived.
Sadly, about a month after we'd made that final call to close, I lost our baby at 12 weeks. The details of that might be best kept private, but I will say that to be one week from the safety zone of finally telling the world our joyous news only to have it ripped away felt like the cruelest joke. After a mentally and physically traumatizing experience in the ER left me treading water in the dark lake of grief, I took just 4 days off from work. I realize that many people do not have the luxury of taking off work at all, and I should be grateful that I had this time to recover. But to go through an event that left me emotionally broken and physically vulnerable, and to feel as though I couldn't take the adequate time to heal only reaffirmed my decision that the business needed to shift in a different direction. I needed my life back, I needed to turn the wheel of Hattie Sparks back onto the road that made the most sense.
Closing was far from an easy decision. But I do know that it is the right one. I cannot begin to thank all of our loyal customers who've supported us over the past (almost) 6 years. It has been a privilege to get to know you, to laugh with you, and to introduce you to the things that I love. I hope you'll continue on with me as I take this next big leap. I was also fortunate enough to employ some of the most wonderful, loyal, and kind women at Hattie Sparks; they made being "the boss" seem like an easy job and I'll forever be grateful to them for their enthusiasm and commitment. And to the artists, designers, makers, and craftsmen who've trusted me to carry your designs--it has been an absolute honor. I could not be prouder when I see your products carried at stores across the city and the nation. You each inspire me to keep pushing, keep growing, and keep reaching for the dream.
Finally, I have to say that none of this would have lasted as long as it did without my husband, Corey. To try and put into words the lengths he's gone to, the belief he's shown in me, the pride with which he talked about the business would be impossible. (Ok, now I'm crying...) He got down on his hands and knees for this business, both literally and figuratively, and it's as much his as it is mine.
Thank you to everyone who's ever believed in me and in Hattie Sparks. I know this next wave of change will wash away to reveal something very special, and I can't wait to share it with each one of you.