A shop with a following: Elgin's Soulful Sparrow

Before Mary Pierce and her business partner and friend Judy Walsberg began the first incarnation of Soulful Sparrow in St. Charles in 2011, Anne Faulkner was the owner of Adornments Boutique, a romance-oriented shop with a loyal following on Main Street in West Dundee.

Neither Faulkner or Pierce imagined they would end up as partners at Soulful Sparrow in Elgin. In fact, Faulkner had given up the retail business, much to the despair of her customers, who had come to think of Adornments Boutique as a unique destination shopping experience.

Faulkner describes her first store as an evolution which began as a vintage clothing shop in 1990 just a few blocks west of West Dundee's business district. She remained there for three years, but business was slow, so when a storefront opened up within the district in 1993, Faulkner made the move.

"When I moved there, it was a mix of vintage and new," she said. "The store took on a life of its own. In the end it ended up being an alternative bridal shop with lots of mother-of-the-bride stuff."

Clothes with a vintage vibe weren't the only reason the store developed fans. Faulkner filled the small space to the brim with jewelry, trinkets, linens and hats, among other high-end items. Her New Year's Day sale was widely attended, as each year Faulkner offered everything in the store at half price.

"It was a blast and people would bring snacks," Faulkner recalled. "It was the party of the year."

By 2008, Faulkner began to burn out and her health began to suffer. After 15 years, she closed shop, although she opened an eBay store called Adornments Boutique which is still operational. She volunteered at Sherman Hospital's oncology ward after her father's death from colon cancer and learned medical billing as a new career.

Meanwhile, in 2011, Pierce and Walsberg began to work together to bring Walsberg's old house back to its former glory before they would open the store that same year.

"She had a feeling that it was a neglected house and we were taking care of it." Pierce said of Walsberg. "She had a moment where she remembered something from the Bible where God takes care of even the littlest sparrow, so we decided to name the house Sparrow House because it was being taken care of. When the store came about, we needed a name and we wanted to tie the two things together."

Opening the store was a lifelong dream for Pierce.

"I've always wanted to own a gift shop. I worked for gift shops when I was raising my children. I loved making displays. I love interacting with people," she said.

The original Soulful Sparrow was located in the Century Corners area in St. Charles, in a repurposed stone house. Pierce and Walsberg sold an eclectic mixture of vintage items and gifts to the tune of a cage full of live finches. But, the partners didn't see much walk-in business. When the lease was up, they closed the store.

When the time came to choose a new location, both Pierce and Walsberg decided to support their hometown of Elgin. They contacted the Downtown Neighborhood Association, which helped with the location of their business. In 2012, they moved in, finches and all, and set up shop at 10 Douglas Avenue with one caveat: Walsberg was only in for two years, after that Pierce would have to find a new partner.

True to her word, Walsberg retired in 2014 and Pierce began to keep her eyes and ears open to possibilities for a compatible partner.

"I wanted to find a new partner organically," Pierce said. "Maybe a regular customer, someone that we could approach, rather than they approach us. You put something out to the universe and something comes back to you."

Faulkner turned out to be that person. She met Pierce's husband, Jeffrey, when he contributed a poem to the poetry box in her yard.

Faulkner's poetry box is a free-standing structure with a glass top where she shares poems. It is inspired by the Poetry Box Project in Portland, Oregon, where approximately 300 participants share poetry in the same way. Faulkner decided to introduce the project in Elgin when a friend described the Portland-based project to her. There are currently three boxes in Elgin.

When Faulkner took to Facebook to find volunteers for a companion publication called Muse, Jeffrey stepped up, bringing his wife, Mary, and her search for a new partner onto Faulkner's radar.

About that time, Faulkner began to consider retail once more.

"I got the itch again," said Faulkner. "I missed the creativity in my life. I tried to do that with Adornments but that wasn't the clientele. It wasn't the right area."

The serendipitous events were met and the two agreed to partner at Soulful Sparrow. Pierce feels she found the perfect partner in Faulkner. "Anne was a good mix for me with her knowledge about taxes and things like that. She's also good with the social media," Pierce said.

Their taste in merchandise is similar, as well as the way they go about finding the items they sell.

"It's an eclectic mix of new and old," Pierce said. "An artistic, re-purposed look, mixed with new things. Prices range from $10-15 for a piece of jewelry up to a higher priced item of good, quality clothing, not trendy, but comfortable."

"When I look for new things I look for things that fit that genre; kind of a romantic realm. Something you could wear professionally but still be comfortable," she added.

Both partners go about the search for merchandise in a similar way

"You can't go looking for something; you're never going to find it. It's more of a going out and wandering out and making discoveries," Faulkner said. "I like to go to local craft shows and discover people who would fit well in the shop and sometimes people contact us. We prefer artisans. The more local a person is, the better."

Pierce agrees.

"When I'm looking for unusual items, I let things catch my eye, because if you're looking for something specific, it puts you in a box."

Although the duo like to discover items that speak to them, Pierce is especially drawn to items that fit the wabi sabi ideal, a Japanese aesthetic which finds beauty in flawed things.

"I like things that are rustic looking, wabi sabi, because it makes it more beautiful," Pierce said.

"We both feel strongly about supporting local artists and the downtown," Faulkner added.

Despite the partners commitment to Elgin's downtown district, they admit they have had to overcome some people's concerns about safety. Deirdre White, executive director of Elgin's Downtown Neighborhood Association, offers reassurance.

"We're at a 40-year low as far as the crime rate," White said. "We're comparable with Naperville."

"When I first took over this position about a year and a half ago, my quote was, 'the perception is not the reality and the reality is not the perception,'" White added. "Now that I've been in this position and seen all the changes in downtown Elgin, I don't think that's the perception any more. Some of the old-time Elgin people haven't been in town for 20 years and they remember the Elgin of 20 years ago."

To Faulkner and Pierce, two longtime residents of Elgin, the city is their home and they like to convey the idea with the setup in the store.

"I like a homey look," Pierce said. "I'm more comfortable. I feel like if people can see how we work it into the store, they can picture it in their own home."

Both partners expect the store will evolve over time, much like Faulkner's Adornments Boutique and, for that matter, the city of Elgin. But despite the natural progression of time and tastes the shop will stay the same in an important way, according to Faulkner.

"It's always going to be a creative, unique destination shop that supports the downtown and supports local artists and encourages people to be creative."

Soulful Sparrow is at 10 Douglas Ave, Elgin. Call (224) 223-7718 or visit

  Anne Faulkner, left, and Mary Pierce, both Elgin residents, are the owners of Soulful Sparrow in downtown Elgin. Rick West/
  The original Soulful Sparrow shop was in St. Charles; in 2012, it relocated to downtown Elgin. Rick West/
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