Small Business Saturday: Stockist Spotlight
At Ordinary Habit, we're proud to champion the work of artists and small business owners from all walks of life. As our business grows, these partnerships have also reinforced the importance of connecting with—and celebrating—those who have uplifted us. For Kara Kelso of The Slow Down Coffee Co. (our incredible stockist in Des Moines, Iowa), this idea is essential.
“What could happen if we slowed down and got to know each other? That one question put my husband and I on the path toward opening our coffee shop,” she explains. “We really want to show anyone who visits that this is a place where you can slow down enough to enjoy a cup of delicious coffee and have a conversation that transforms a stranger into a friend.”
While this fall has been particularly challenging for Kelso, community remains a driving force in helping her notice and appreciate the little things. “I just talked to my husband about really wanting to be intentional about the relationships that matter most to me and make sure I take time for them,” she adds. “I would also like to keep noticing the colors in my garden this fall. They have been amazing!
Noticing where Kelso is in business (and life) also means moving in new and unexpected directions. “I'm learning that I’m a serial entrepreneur and get bored easily,” she notes. "What we do next will definitely be different but somewhat similar. It will probably be a combination of coffee, books, and puzzles, of course! As for the present moment, I'm enjoying seeing some of my hard work coming to fruition. I also got my real estate license this year—I told you, serial entrepreneur—and it’s been really rewarding to work with other small business owners on commercial real estate projects!”
Ali Mulaga is also no stranger to wearing many hats. Before she opened Green & Bean—a lifestyle boutique specializing in eco-conscious, ethically sourced goods—Mulaga ran a candle-making business called Wonky Wicks. She also earned degrees in journalism and creative writing. These days, Mulaga has found her stride in Annapolis, where Green & Bean currently operates. "Despite being the capital of Maryland, it has a lot of small-town characteristics," she says. "I’ve seen more people run into someone they know here than anywhere else I’ve been! It never ceases to amaze me how there are 40,000 people, and they all seem to know each other."
Mulaga also contends this environment lends itself perfectly to the small business community. "People love to support and see what’s new in town," she continues. "Now that we’ve been here for eight months, it definitely feels like we’ve fully rooted into our little big city."
These days, Mulaga’s attention is on her business—and all of the beauty that fall brings. “I love autumn because the leaves make a different landscape every day. It’s a period where the inevitability of change stares us right in the face, and I love looking back at it."
And on the note of looking back, our team can't help but feel gratified to have been part of Green & Bean's journey from its earliest days. "Finding Ordinary Habit, especially so early on, helped to shape the whimsical, design-driven aesthetic that we tend to seek out when finding new brands," Mulaga adds.
As you can tell, we're grateful to be stocked on the shelves at The Slow Down Coffee Co. and Green & Bean. In celebration of Small Business Saturday, we asked Kelso and Mulaga to share more about their entrepreneurial paths—and a few habits you can adopt to support small businesses all year round.
Kara Kelso of The Slow Down Coffee Co.
Tell us about the small business community in Highland Park. What ordinary delights would we see in this neighborhood on any given day?
The small business community in Highland Park is amazing! We have businesses that are cornerstones in Des Moines and businesses that have opened in the last few years. All of the businesses are so diverse and so supportive of each other. Over the past few years, our neighborhood has gone through such a revitalization, and all of the business owners are so passionate. We are always planning events together, promoting each other, and just doing fun, creative things.
Some of my favorite things you will see throughout the neighborhood are the murals! We are really fortunate to have several murals sprinkled throughout the business district by different local artists. Many of them are on the outside buildings, but there are also several tucked away inside of the businesses.
At Ordinary Habit, we seek to create design-forward goods that encourage attention, slowness, and play. What role does design play in The Slow Down Coffee Co.'s mission?
Design has played a huge role in our space. First and foremost, we were very intentional about repurposing as many materials as we could when we were rehabbing our space. Our building was built in 1920, and it spent most of its life as a hardware store. We wanted to pay tribute to that in a thoughtful way. When you first walk into the shop, you will see "Highland Park Hardware" and "Welcome" stenciled on the floor with two rosettes between the phrases. The roses were incorporated into our logo, and we had the wording re-stenciled onto the floor when we had the floors done. We also have numbers on the floor where rope and chain used to be measured from the back wall!
Other features include wood paneling down from the front of the store, which we had a friend make into a standing counter and two tables. The old hardware store checkout counter is built into our coffee counter. The list goes on. The space is definitely ours, but there are nods to the Highland Park Hardware Store everywhere. When we first opened, we also had a young artist, Marissa Hernandez, paint a mural for us on our back wall. She did an amazing job representing a diverse group of different folks "slowing down" and enjoying life.
Mostly, we want our space to be as inclusive, welcoming, and comfortable as possible. It's always evolving, but as long as we accomplish those things, we are winning.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of partnering with Ordinary Habit?
I love partnering with Ordinary Habit! One of the most fun things has been introducing people to the 100-piece puzzles for adults. I always have a 1,000-piece puzzle going on myself, but that is not practical for most people. When I first saw the 100-piece puzzle on Ordinary Habit’s Instagram, I thought, “This is amazing!” What a great idea for adults to do in various settings—such as a coffee shop!
What are three things people can do to support small businesses all year round?
Besides the obvious of shopping with us, follow us on social media, post about us on social media, and leave us a Google review!
Ali Mulaga of Green & Bean
Before starting your business ventures, you received a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's in creative writing. Tell us about your relationship with writing and storytelling today.
Writing and I are… often estranged, but we are definitely starting to repair our relationship. It all felt too big at the time. I left university in 2016, understanding that language was such an extremely powerful tool, and I just didn’t feel like I was a person who could be responsible for shaping public perception (journalism). I realized that it was entirely possible that I wanted to write a novel to say that I had, and not because I had any particular story to tell (creative writing).
I took a much-needed break, and here we are! Right now, I mostly write profiles on our brands, as well as some extraneous blog posts for the website. This is an on-again-off-again habit, but I try to write little vignettes about the series of oddities I often experience. I guess you could say I’m practicing scene writing!
What are a few ordinary habits you hope Green & Bean encourages others to adopt?
At Green & Bean, you’ll find over 40 brands (including Ordinary Habit!) that produce eco-conscious, ethically sourced goods for the home and body. Something I think makes us different is that we write brand profiles on each brand we carry. We do this because we choose our brands intentionally and learn about their ethos, their process, and their philosophy. We quickly realized it’s important that our audience knows who they’re buying from, too.
As a retailer, Green & Bean doesn’t produce products; we source them from our vendors. This is largely how any store works, from Target to Whole Foods to Anthropologie to Green & Bean. We buy from brands; we resell under our brand. But when we buy a product from a shop, we usually talk about where we got it (Green & Bean) instead of who made it (Ordinary Habit). We want to bridge that gap between the consumer and producer and encourage our audience to learn more about who is actually making their products.
I think the disconnect between manufacturers, retailers, and consumers is what led, over time, to the unethical exploitation of workers, overproduction of products, mass consumption, and improper disposal of "last season’s styles" we see so much of now. We hope that by building this bridge between our vendors and our customers, we can encourage the habit of learning where the object in their hands came from.
On Green & Bean's website, you mention that "there's nothing inherently luxurious about a puzzle, a blanket, a journal, but done well, these typically mundane items can be lively and meaningful."
Talk to us more about your relationship with slow luxury. How does operating a physical storefront contribute to this framework? How does slow luxury come into play for you during the holiday season?
To me, slow luxury is simply the ideological opposition of "fast fashion" and includes more than just clothes. It encompasses any product or experience done with intention. To be honest, I don’t even know if it’s a real concept. It's just a term I feel describes what we’re doing. It’s funny because I wouldn’t say we’re by any means a "luxury store"—we have three rocking chairs and a Venus fly trap—but people leave feeling a little pampered, even when they aren’t shopping for themselves.
As a gift shop, the holiday season is the jelly to our peanut butter, but we actually didn’t start off considering ourselves a gift shop. We had some gifting materials just in case (a branded gift box, compostable tissue paper and stickers, etc.), but for us, it was always about the concept of finding ethically sourced, eco-conscious goods.
If someone mentions their purchase is a gift, I’m going to wrap it unless they actively tell me not to. Wrapping is part of the gift, so it’s just something we do because it feels like it should be done. I guess there’s a luxury in that, too—having us wrap a gift for you, curl the ribbons, and make it look just right so that it’s not an extra 3-4 steps once you get the item home.
What are three things people can do to support small businesses all year round?
First, sign up for newsletters! It’s a great way to keep up-to-date and make sure the businesses you care about stay relevant in your mind. Second, trade resources! If you’re looking for a particular good or service but can’t think of a small business that does this, ask your friends, family, and colleagues! And third, talk to us! Local businesses are here to support our communities as much as communities want to support local businesses. Want to see more of this? Wish we did less of that? This isn’t to say that we’re going to do everything that's suggested, but keeping an open line of communication helps us grow!
Small Business, Ordinary Habits*
What does an ideal day look like at the shop?
Kara: Honestly, there is hardly a bad day at the shop! Usually, we get going in the morning with teachers or other people heading to work. Around 8 a.m., the shop fills up with people gathering for meetings or working from their laptops. The afternoon crowd is typically friends or other people gathering. In the evenings, we often have events such as an LGBTQ+ game night. The weeks are a different story with a rhythm of their own!
Ali: There’s something about the shop that makes it nearly impossible for dogs to walk by casually. We think it’s the smell—essential oil candles and dried flowers—and we do actually have some regulars who like to pop their nose in! The shop is underneath a complex of condos, so it’s always nice when the neighbors say hi, especially with their dogs.
What habits do small business owners cultivate that others don't typically see?
Kara: Learning to do it ALL—at least at first. We are also incredibly resourceful and scrappy. The biggest thing we do is support each other! Opening a small business is really hard. Because of that, I think we build a great community with each other—we have no other choice. We have to rely on each other.
Ali: As a small business, many times you can be a small team (often of one!) and be almost completely removed from that traditional workplace community of having colleagues, managers, and employees. Because of this, I think a lot of us spend a lot of time connecting with other small business owners. We have similar passions, obstacles, ideas, and solutions—it’s different from co-workers, but in many ways, we still "work together."
What fellow small businesses are you hoping to support this season?
Kara: I cannot stop buying books from Insomniac Books. He has such a great selection of used, rare, out-of-print, first edition, and vintage books. Right now, he sells things on Instagram, online auctions, or in-person pop-ups. Another small business I’m excited about is Kays Spiritual Ways. This shop opened right around the corner from ours in September, and it has been so much fun. She has a lot of great crystals, candles, incense, tarot cards, and so on.
Ali: We carry about 40 different brands in our shop and love to see our customers show them some love. Outside our realm of products, the holiday season means holiday parties! We’ll be hosting some events to finish off the year, and we’ll be going local for the catering! Wineries, breweries, bakers, and chefs—there’s nothing better than a hodgepodge of seasonal local delights.
What are your Ordinary Habit gift picks?
Ali: I love the For Now journal! It’s my recommendation for a more freeform, creatively formatted guided journal. I also love that this journal is untethered to time. It’s not a daily or weekly—it’s an ordinary habit that you can build without any obligation. Wunderkammer Repatriation and Writer in the Snow by Ilya Milstein seem like they’d be a cozy duo for the holidays, and both happen to be my current favorites.