Three downtown business owners

Yes, some national chains have closed. But shopkeepers Terri Baird (left), Martha McAntire and Regenia Bradley are entrepreneurs who each opened a new store downtown right around the same time. The three encourage others to consider opening a business in Ottumwa. 

OTTUMWA — Three people shopping together may have more fun than one. Maybe three friends with good taste opening three shops together can have more fun than just opening solo.

So how well did these three shopkeepers really know each other?

“I know Terri,” said Martha McAntire.

“I know Terri,” said Regenia Bradley.

“I begged them!” said Terri. “We should all find somewhere together, I told them.”

Terri Baird was looking for a new place for My Chic Boutique. Bradley was looking for a bigger place for Elegance by Design. And McAntire was considering opening a shop. She’s across Main Street at Martha’s Nook and Cranny.

“I kept my eyes open for an opportunity,” said Baird. “I was downtown and saw all three available spaces.”

She called it fate. Ottumwa has been improving the facades in the 100 block of East Main Street, allowing old buildings to see new use. The historic theme continues inside the three shops.

Old tables and drawers — some restored, others original — highlight the spaces. Some of the walls are covered in corrugated tin. Others are freshly painted. None have been left bland.

“People came in,” said Bradley, “and they said, ‘I can’t believe we have these kinds of shops in Ottumwa’.”

McAntire said shoppers say the experience reminded them of a destination town like Galena, Illinois.

“And that’s what we need in Ottumwa,” said Baird.

She wants Ottumwa to be a place people come spend more than one day to shop; they could stay at a hotel or, perhaps, a newly opened bed and breakfast.

Maybe that’s why, instead of being wary of competition, the businesswomen encourage others to find an empty space nearby and sell some unique, desirable items.

“Downtown, we’d like to see a candy shop, a bakery, bistros and more boutiques,” Baird said. “We want more shops to open.”

If you do start a business in the area then you’ll have neighbors with practice supporting one another. For those shopping? Tell any of the owners what you’re looking for and they’ll steer you to the right store — even if it’s not their own.

Elegance by Design is at 324 E. Main St.

Bradley is known for unique jewelry pieces, purses, scarves, baby items and, if it’s elegant enough, clothing.

“When I buy, I buy in small quantities,” Bradley said, “so you’re not going to see the same thing when you walk around the corner.”

“She has everything women love,” added Baird.

Baird’s own place, My Chic Boutique at 322 E. Main St. is a consignment shop specializing in good condition, brand name consignment items. She has handbags, lots of clothing, shoes and accessories.

“I have about 800 consignors and climbing,” she said. “And I have a huge prom, wedding and formal room.”

Looking around, there is also jewelry, household decorative items and a vibe that just “feels” good.

“That [atmosphere] creates a perception, that’s somewhere you want to shop — because it’s cool,” said Bradley about the tone of the three stores.

Martha’s is at 313 E. Main St. Her specialty is taking something old and solid — and turning it into something new and beautiful.

“Antique, vintage or handmade,” she said.

She crafts items to sell, and knows others who do as well. Rather than wait until the Christmas shopping season to get a booth at a craft fair, artisans who carve wooden signs, build dog beds that go with the decor of your home or make things to hang on the wall can sell their wares through Martha’s.

If you like making things, too, there’s a corner of her shop with dozens of feet of old barn wood, a bucket of valve turnoffs and a box with apple-shaped drawer pulls — though all that may change depending on what her “picker” husband comes across in his travels.

Having these shops in the growing and improving downtown area can allow others to have success, Baird said; commerce is beneficial to the whole community, she said, especially when it brings in visitors over the weekend. But stores only thrive when they have daily business.

“For this to work, we need Ottumwa to shop local,” said Baird.

You can visit the shops during normal business hours, which are:

• Martha’s Nook and Cranny, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday open until 7 p.m. and Saturdays 10 am. to 3 p.m.

• Elegance by Design, Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• My Chic Boutique, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday open until 7 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Reporter Mark Newman can be contacted at mnewman@ottumwacourier.com and followed on Twitter @couriermark.

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