Glenview's Country Classics celebrates its 40th anniversary as owners celebrate theirs, too
Kathy and Roger Carlstrom were married on a Saturday 40 years ago, and two days later they opened Country Classics, a Glenview specialty retail store that is still going strong.
Though it wasn't their original intention to embark on two monumental journeys in such a short time span -- they wanted to open the store a month earlier but the buildout took longer than anticipated -- the Carlstroms have found success in business and marriage over four decades.
Country Classics, located next to Trader Joe's at 1405 Waukegan Road in Glenview, sells clothing for men, women and children, along with toys and gift items. When the store opened in March of 1981 in the shopping center directly across Waukegan Road, it was among several specialty stores, including a toy store and a pet shop.
They've since moved to their current location, and their store is one of the last of its kind on the North Shore. Recently, the Carlstroms, with their employees and customers who they regard as family, celebrated their twin 40th anniversaries at the store.
Roger, who worked at IBM for many years, said they opened the shop so Kathy would have something to do. He said she was good at connecting with customers, and he liked working with the financial side of the business, including the buildout and leases.
"We made a good team, and her skillset didn't overlap with my skillset. So together, we were good." Roger said.
"As long as he stays out of my part of the business, we get along great," Kathy said, smiling.
Kathy also knows her merchandise and strives to find unique items.
Instead of just stocking items selected from a wholesale catalog, she goes on buying trips, and just recently returned from a visit to Dallas. She also orders unique items from local suppliers.
"I always try to buy things from local people who make things, too," Kathy said.
Around 30% of Country Classics' sales are gift items, "hostess gifts" that people often purchase on Friday and Saturday afternoons when they are on the way to a gathering at someone's home. Oftentimes, people will call and request a "$50 wrapped gift," give their credit card information over the phone, and pick it up at the front of the store, Kathy said.
Their three children, now adults in their 30s and 40s, spent much of their childhoods hanging around the store, and their daughter Katie Hunt, now with three young children of her own, works there. Katie and Kathy worked together during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when employees were furloughed and they used the center of the store as a packing area for mail order and delivery.
Employees and customers have returned for in-person shopping, with protocols in place.
If the Carlstroms choose to retire, Kathy points toward Katie as the one to lead the business.
"She has the energy, the excitement. She's great with customers," Kathy said.
Kathy said the secret to her success over the last 40 years is her customers and her employees, whom she regards as family.
"They've all been with me a long time, and they're all amazing," Kathy said. "It's the people behind me that have made me successful. I've been lucky."