More than 20 years ago, Lisa Allen was happily living in Chicago and not at all impressed when her husband bought property in Cary.
“I thought that’s it for that relationship,” she jokes. “I was a big city girl.”
Allen agreed to the move on one condition.
“I said if I’m going to move here, I’m going to open my own business,” she recalled.
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She made good on her promise and opened Ivy Cottage, a gift shop then located in Preston Corners. When the store outgrew the 1,000-foot space, she bought a building formerly inhabited by a dry cleaning business and set to work transforming the exterior into a cottage befitting of its name.
Ivy Cottage is now a destination for area shoppers.
“We try to make it a really fun spirit,” Allen says. “We’ve integrated ourselves within the community. It’s a nice getaway for shoppers. They use it as an escape. The ladies seem very happy and relaxed.”
The store has evolved from its beginnings as a gift shop into an eclectic mix, which carries everything from stationery to upholstered furnishings.
“We found that design elements were what people wanted,” she says.
Allen took interior design classes at Meredith College to give her the tools to expand her business. Now, she spends most of her time with interior design.
“I can’t say how much I love it,” she says. “To transform a space they’ve been frustrated with into a great space they love.”
Although her staff handles the day-to-day work on the sales floor, that changes during the holiday season.
“I get super-involved when it comes to Christmas,” Allen says. “It’s a long tradition among customers. We do really special, fancy gift wrapping. It’s really important to set yourself apart from the big-box stores. Every time a customer walks through the door it’s a new experience. That makes us stand apart.
New technology has introduced new challenges. Allen says people come into the store, find something they like and snap a picture on their phone.
“Then they go home and shop online,” she says. “They just don’t get it. They have to support their local businesses or we won’t be here.
“The other big challenge is to always keep our customer interested and see what’s around the corner,” she said. “That takes a lot of work. I love to have customers ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and say, ‘I’ve never seen that before.’”
On Sept. 19, Ivy Cottage will mark its success with a 20th-anniversary celebration. There will be food trucks, games, discounts and giveaways.
The store has experienced ups and downs, including the recession, which Allen said was “brutal” on small businesses.
“It’s a tough thing to survive in. I’m incredibly proud of my family and staff.”
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Location: 2017 NW Cary Parkway, Morrisville
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 12 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday