There will be buzz in the local retail market this month as Colleen Maia opens up a home and garden shop at 128 Chicago Ave., in Oak Park. Maia has named her venture Bee Home and Garden and has high hopes for the store which represents a lot of firsts, both for her and the village.
Maia, a veteran real estate broker and lifelong Oak Parker, is opening the store in a section of east Oak Park not well known for retail establishments. While Oak Park is not lacking in women-owned, home-centered retail — think Careful Peach and Bramble – Maia's betting that there's a place in town for her unique vision.
One of six siblings born and raised in Oak Park, Maia has deep roots in the community. Not only did she work for years as a real estate agent for Oak Park's Gloor Realty, but she also worked tirelessly rehabbing the village's older housing stock one dwelling at a time.
Having lived for years in east Oak Park, Maia knew the area well and was committed to staying there, but with her two daughters out of high school, she decided it was time for a new venture. She rented out her home and purchased a short sale property on Chicago Avenue.
Maia is the first to admit that she jumped into the retail business without a look back. "Not knowing what I'm doing with this didn't stop me," she says. "I've always wanted to have a store, and this is my labor of love."
The storefront at Chicago and Lombard had formerly been Wilson's Grocery Food Store and then an artist's studio, before Maia purchased it in November of 2011. Rehabbing the building to create a store on the first level and a second story apartment where she'll reside took months of getting permits and construction.
While the building was under construction, Maia says she was receiving an education in running a shop.
"I've learned so much about retail in the past few months. Getting your resale license so that you can pay wholesale and finding out the role the internet plays in a business have been key," she says. "I've spent time at the Chicago Market and learned all about stocking a shop. You can't just spend $50 on tea towels; you have to buy $500 worth in order to meet purchase minimums. You have to trust that what you like will sell."
Construction finished in June and Maia began stocking the shelves in July with an eye to opening the store sometime this month. "Originally, I wanted to open on June 21st, the first day of summer to celebrate my favorite season," she says. "As that got pushed back, I made it my goal to open by the tail end of summer."
Walking into the store, Maia's design ethos is immediately evident. As she points out, "I want the store to be full of everything women and girls love. It's a mix between industrial and super girly. I'm trying to be a little edgy, but not too much."
An exposed brick wall rises above bead board wainscoting, with antique mirrors dotting the brick wall. Salvaged store cabinets from Marshal Fields hold vintage and new jewelry. Throughout the store, vintage furniture finds have been updated with new fabrics or fresh coats of paint. Globes, an old anchor and lockers painted a vibrant green add to the mix.
There are sections in the store for soft textiles, including pillows and throw blankets, and household items such as fragrant candles, vases and glassware. A children's section offers unique gifts for the under 10 set, and Maia stresses that there are inexpensive jewelry items for teens as well.
"For your house to be special, you should have a mix of vintage and contemporary," she says. The store reflects this with new household items mixed together with unique finds. Maia says she trolls estate sales and is constantly on the lookout for vintage items.
Next summer, the store's back patio will showcase garden wares and plantings, and Maia plans to offer plants inside during the off-season.
Beyond stocking the store, Maia has also been busy getting the word out to locals that a new business is soon to open in the neighborhood.
"This is pretty much your only shopping area east of Ridgeland over here. I want to encourage Oak Parkers to shop here and people from the neighborhood to shop here," she says. "The neighborhood is healthy if you have shops."
With an eye to community-building, Maia plans to hire local students from OPRF High School as store staff. "I know how lucky I've been in my life. I want to reach out to first generation college-bound girls, not only to give them jobs, but to work with them on enrichment and learning about a business."
As Maia enters into this new phase of her life, she continues to work in real estate, operating Maia Homes, her own brokerage, from her upstairs apartment. She notes that she couldn't have done it all without the help of her two daughters, Maria and Brigette.
"I needed some helpers, and they are very involved. They help me know if ideas work, plus they offer emotional support."
Maia hopes the community will welcome the store with open arms. "We need the support of Oak Parkers to grow. They'll find some really awesome things here if they give us a chance."