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Behind the scenes at Backcountry Boutique and Bella Kitchen
It is 4am and Mary Gilson is already up checking emails and placing purchase orders. While her lovely shop, Backcountry Boutique, won’t open until 10:30am, she will have put in a full day’s work before the first customer walks through the door.
A few blocks away at Bella Kitchen, a new freight delivery has arrived. Opening box after box of merchandise, unwrapping, organizing, cleaning, pricing, and displaying the new products is hard work. “It can be a slog,” says Lisa Wood, owner of Bella Kitchen, “even if you are excited about the products you are unpacking. If you ask my employees if they love this job, they will say half of it…everything but freight!”
It is easy to stop into Backcountry Boutique, Bella Kitchen, or one of the dozens of locally owned businesses in town and be so dazzled by the enticing displays and welcoming ambiance that the hours of dedication behind the scenes go largely unnoticed.
Behind every storefront, every cash register, there is a level of commitment and dedication that is extraordinary…and a story that makes each of these local businesses unique. “When you think about all of the people that own businesses in this town,” says Wood, “there is no ‘man on the hill’ here. In every store you will find the owner’s presence.”
We set out to get a small taste of what goes on behind the scenes and bring just a taste of what owning a small business in McCall is really like.
Backcountry Boutique | The “new” kid on the block
Backcountry Boutique started as a leap of faith. “We moved to McCall planning to purchase a completely different business,” says Gilson. When that fell through it left her wondering what other options there might be. “My husband asked me what was missing locally, what kind of things did I want to buy but couldn’t.” And that sparked the idea for a clothing store. “My daughter was getting older and not in kid sizes, but not a women’s size either,” she says, “and I was looking for clothing myself without having to go to Boise.”
So, with no experience in retail or business ownership, Gilson immersed herself in learning everything she could. “Before I opened the store, I had been a housewife and a homeschooling mom,” she says. “I honestly thought fashion was stupid, I didn’t understand why anyone would buy something that wasn’t completely practical.” But in navigating the ups and downs of bringing Backcountry Boutique to life, Gilson has realized that although she owns a clothing store, the clothes and fashion are secondary. “It is really about people,” she says. “It is about relationships. It is about being welcoming to all and helping someone find something that makes them feel happy and confident.”
After three years in business, Gilson says it really feels like they are finding the right mix of products that best serve their customers. “I try to find things that flatter most body types and hit a middle price point without sacrificing quality,” she says. “No one wants to find something they love only to have it fall apart on them a few months later.” But it has to be unique as well. “It is easy to find a pair of black boots,” she says. “But a pair of black boots with a little fun detail nobody else has is the type of thing we look for. Something you just can’t resist buying.”
Paired with her diligence sourcing from companies she trusts, Gilson also takes her cues directly from her customers and is curating clothing, shoes, accessories and more to align with her ultimate goal. “We want people to be excited and feel pretty and trust us,” she says. “Making a connection is what it is all about.”
A connection she hopes lasts for years to come. “I look at other local businesses like Bella Kitchen who are celebrating 20 years and it is such an incredible thing,” says Gilson. “I can’t even imagine where Backcountry Boutique may be in 20 years – the relationships we will continue to build, what the store will look like, how it might change.”
With her daughter, Grace, working alongside her to build Backcountry Boutique, a great mix of merchandise, amazing customer service, and a loyal customer base, we know great things are in store.
Bella Kitchen | Celebrating 20 years
Lisa Wood didn’t start out as an entrepreneur. “I spent the first part of my adult life bartending and waiting tables,” she says. “I was raising kids in my 20s and was 35 when I graduated from college with a business degree.” After graduating she and her family moved from Boise to McCall and Wood took a job with the county as a juvenile probation officer. After seven years, she knew it was time for a change and took a chance at opening a business of her own.
Bella Kitchen opened in 2002 and Wood set up shop in the space Bistro 45 now uses as an auxiliary meeting room. “It was tiny, just 500 square feet,” she says. But it was perfect. “I had this idea about how I wanted Bella Kitchen to be a gift store with a kitchen theme, not just a kitchen supply store.”
But when it came to sourcing the products for her store, Wood says she had some general ideas about where to start from her food service and hospitality days. But at the end of the day, she just filled her store with what appealed to her. “I honestly just find things that speak to me, the things that I like myself,” says Wood. “I am definitely not a decorator, but I have learned over the years what people like and how they want to shop.” Which means they no longer carry any bath accessories, but they do carry a lot of wooden bowls. “People love wooden trays and bowls…and foxes,” she says. “There is something about foxes that everyone loves.”
And while the inventory may change, the experience doesn’t. “Our customers are fabulous, fantastic people,” she says. “We want everyone to feel welcome and when they come in, we provide an environment that is super welcoming and happy.” Which means no pressure sales or any type of commission. “If you don’t want the pots and pans, we are good with that,” she says. “We just want you to have a lovely time in the store.”
And that attitude has built a loyal following. “I always love training new staff members because they really get to experience people’s joy,” says Wood. Whenever she hears anyone say, “I love this store” or “we always come here when we are in town,” it is an affirmation to keep doing what she is doing. But the best compliment? “You always have what I need.”
Wood’s knack for knowing just what her customers need (or didn’t know they needed) has built Bella Kitchen into a success. Which is impressive for someone who does not consider herself to be a whizz in the kitchen. “I am a decent cook, but not at all an expert,” says Wood. “Aside from the occasional pie I don’t bake at all, and I have never canned anything. We eat a lot of tacos. A lot of tacos. So, no fancy French sauces for us.”
As for the future of Bella Kitchen, Wood says she is keeping her eye out for a store manager that may one day want to work toward ownership. “The saddest thing would be if in the end, it just closed,” she says. “I think people would really miss it. And I am just so proud of this shop.”