When unexpected events arise for small businesses, some have innovatively dealt with their challenges through collaborative and creative means, such as sharing store space and reaping the business advantages that come with this arrangement.
This is exactly what two La Grande business owners, Dawn Murphy-Lewis of Dawn’s Delights and Craig Beverage of Craig’s Antiques, have done. This summer, Beverage lost his lease at 1429 Adams Ave. when the building he was operating from was sold. Beverage, who said he has no intentions of retiring from the antiques business, accepted a generous offer from Murphy-Lewis, whose secondhand store is just down the street, at 1409 Adams.
“Dawn invited me to share a space with her,” Beverage said. “We do have some different things, so we can still be in the same building but separate.”
Their collaborative agreement is founded on a 30-year friendship and shared business interests in auctions over that period of time. They also worked together in the past.
“When I was managing Bronson Lumber in Union, she was the bookkeeper at Bronson’s in La Grande,” Beverage said.
Both agreed their trusted friendship made the decision easier, but this wasn’t Murphy-Lewis’ first invitation to Beverage to share store space. Four previous times she had suggested this to Beverage, including after Craig’s Antiques encountered structural failures at its former location. Even then, though, he wasn’t ready for a move.
Explaining his prior hesitancies, he said, “I’m a creature of habit. I don’t like change, but this time I had no choice because of the sale of the property I was leasing.”
When a small business make a move, there is always the risk that customers will think it has closed. Beverage and Murphy-Lewis wanted to make the transition as quickly as possible, so Dawn’s Delights temporarily closed its doors on June 8 and the owners began sorting through their inventories and deciding which items they wanted to put into the shared space.
For the Dawn’s Delights owner, having another business share store space meant a major reorganizing and some better use of existing space, “trying to display up instead of out,” she said.
During the remodel, they built what Beverage called a “big beautiful wall” down the center of the retail space. It is a his-and-her division, his on the right, hers on the left. This ensures their inventories remain separate and purchases unconfused.
“After two and a half months of renovation, we reopened on Aug. 19,” Beverage said.
Each business has signage hung outside the building and inside the store that customers will see as they enter the front door, making it clear that the space is home to two businesses.
Beverage and Murphy-Lewis have complementary inventories. He offers general antiques, vintage or collectible glassware, furniture, pottery and sports items, while she offers vintage and secondhand items like clothing, shoes, household items, DVDs and videos, to name a few.
“I’m excited for the new start. Some of my old customers near and far, who have been exploring where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, have slowly been trickling back (to me),” he said, adding that his store has long attracted visitors as well as local shoppers. “Tourists are paramount to my business, and I rely on the local customers over the winter months.”
Murphy-Lewis agreed, citing that she sees a lot of people who are in the area for the Pendleton Round-Up in her store every September. She is grateful that this transition has been completed in time for that big event this year.
The two businesses are now set up at 1409 Adams Ave., and each retains its individual business name and phone number. Craig’s Antiques is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with some flexibility for special obligations, he said. Beverage can be reached at 541-805-4290. Dawn’s Delights is open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., or later by special appointment. Murphy-Lewis may be reached at 541-963-6502.
The new arrangement brings several advantages.
“We share the store rent together and split other costs,” Murphy-Lewis said. “We also benefit from each other’s customers (or tourists), who go from one store to the other.”
Another boon to sharing the space is that the owners can cover for each when one of them has to run a business errand or otherwise leave the premises for a short time. It sounds like a small thing but “that’s a real convenience,” Murphy-Lewis said. “In the past, I had to shut and lock the door until I returned.”
An important advantage to sharing store space with another business involves personal safety.
“Lots of times I used to be alone in the store, but now Craig will be in his store next to me, so that makes me feel safer,” Murphy-Lewis said.
While their friendship makes this arrangement work for them, it’s the browsing lure of their products that will keep them in business.
“We’re providing unique items you will not find at any other retail store,” Murphy-Lewis said.
“I think of my store as a museum you can buy from,” added Beverage.
Now when customers come to 1409 Adams Ave., they will encounter two businesses under the same roof, two happy and helpful shop owners and double the treasure-hunting pleasure.