An interview with Glenn and Debra Anton, owners of Naperville General Store in downtown Naperville.
Q: Describe your business. What do you do?
A: We're a gift store in the heart of downtown Naperville that seeks to capture the spirit of Naperville, both yesterday and today. We have a lot of good ol' days and retro merchandise, such as old-time candy and movie star and comic book memorabilia. We also have a growing line of merchandise (candles, signs, magnets, coffee mugs) that has the word Naperville on it. But we also want to offer items that fit in with today's Naperville lifestyle, so we have a lot of gourmet food and women's accessories and gifts, such as soy candles and bath and body products. Customers seem to like the mix. The store even has a cracker barrel filled with complimentary crackers for every customer.
Q: What made you start your business?
A: Glenn was already in the gift business, manufacturing and producing holiday items and toys and games. Going to trade shows and talking to others in the industry sparked his interest in well-designed, American-made nostalgic-themed merchandise. We were also looking for a project (and a challenge) to take on together when our youngest son went away to college.
Q: What has been the most difficult obstacle in running or starting a small business?
A: The long hours. Also, at home, we often find ourselves talking about nothing but work. Sometimes we just have to turn it off.
Q: What do you enjoy most about operating your business?
A: Seeing what customers like and responding to these observations as quickly as possible. It's exciting to see which areas, even which specific products, have hit a chord with our customers. That helps us shape the direction that the store is headed. As we are in Downtown Naperville, we love it when our customers share their memories of "old Naperville." This town means a lot to many people for so many different reasons.
Q: Is this what you pictured yourself doing when you were young? When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: A writer -- and for many years I was a magazine editor and writer. Luckily, I still get to those talents in writing our Facebook posts and in the copy I write for our email newsletter. And when putting together displays, I'm definitely thinking in terms of "telling a story."
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: The slow traffic during this awful winter. People didn't feel like doing "fun" shopping when it's below zero outside.
Q: If you could give one tip to a rookie business owner, what would it be?
A: A strong concept and a great location are keys, but getting involved in the community is what keeps a store thriving.
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