ROCHELLE — After opening in October, The Spark Shop in downtown Rochelle has been home to 10 home-based businesses looking to get the storefront experience and work on future expansion.
The retail incubator is a collaboration between the Rochelle Chamber of Commerce, City of Rochelle, Retail Advisory Board, Kishwaukee College and the Small Business Development Center at Waubonsee College. It’s for businesses that are currently home-based but are looking to someday have their own brick and mortar location.
“From the chamber's perspective it is going well,” Chamber Executive Director Tricia Herrera said. “We are happy with the sales and they are growing each week. We are thrilled with the support we have received from the community and are happy that we can help the vendors have a storefront for their products. Our single focus is to grow their businesses and we have worked hard to do that. We don't have a ‘road map’ for this project as it is so unique, so we have learned a lot along the way and have made adjustments when needed.”
The News-Leader spoke with three of The Spark Shop’s vendors last week about their businesses and the experience so far.
Aunt B’s Baking
Brooke Cox started out making cookies and cupcakes with her nieces and nephews.
“Aunt B” started her business officially in June after it was a passion for years. She makes custom cookies and cupcakes along with cakes, cinnamon rolls, brownies and other sweets. She also offers cookie decorating classes.
“It’s a creative outlet for me,” Cox said. “I can look at something and make it into something people enjoy. I love being in the kitchen. It was a no-brainer for me to combine those things.”
Cox worked local farmer’s markets and vendor events over the summer and was looking for a way to continue into the winter after a lot of those events go dormant. The Spark Shop was “perfect timing” for her.
“It’s been awesome,” Cox said. ‘It’s very unique and not common in other towns. People can be hesitant picking up things from homes. It’s another opportunity for me. For my customers that do know me, they know they can come down when we’re open and pick up some cupcakes or cookies in small portions and they don’t have to order in bulk.”
Cox has been baking since 2013. When she became a stay-at-home mom in Aug. 2019, it gave her more time to do things like invest in herself and it led to Aunt B’s Baking. She’s enjoyed her work-life balance and making her own hours since.
The main goal of Aunt B’s Baking is to have a standalone storefront one day. The Spark Shop is helping her with the learning curve in the meantime.
“One thing about The Spark Shop has been how great it is to meet other vendors,” Cox said. “We network and help each other out with different things. I’ve learned a lot from them and I’ve been able to lend some of the knowledge I have.”
Krystyn Mellor named her business, Wallyswishes, after her grandfather.
Wally was a woodworker and had his own workshop. Krystyn spent time with him learning the trade. Her business creates custom crafts, home decor, signs, tumblers, shirts and more.
“I wanted to start a business for when people have an idea and can’t find something,” Mellor said. “Something unique to an individual that I can make special for people. I wanted to bring ideas to life.”
Wallyswishes started about three years ago. Mellor had just given birth to twins, two of her four children, and started the home-based business. She made matching shirts for her twins and posted it on Facebook and things just “took off” from there.
Mellor is a cancer survivor. She has chemotherapy-induced neuropathy and didn't want to be on medication every day to control her pain. Keeping her fingers working on her products has aided her. Moving her hands helps combat the ailment.
When asked which of her products she’s enjoyed making most, Mellor mentioned creating wedding vows on boards for a wedding gift, customized Christmas ornaments and work she did for a friend whose father had recently passed away.
“We took his handwriting and lasered it into wood for her kids,” Mellor said. “That was a meaningful one.”
Mellor said at the beginning, starting her small business was tough. Being introverted made it hard to put herself out there and she’s worked hard to get high-quality products to customers fast at cost-efficient prices.
Her goal is for Wallyswishes to have its own storefront one day. Mellor wants to keep growing and learn new mediums to reach more people.
“I’m grateful to be a part of The Spark Shop,” Mellor said. “It’s been a great experience. There are so many great people involved and it’s helped my business take off. I’m excited to see where it goes.”
The Rose Barn
Rosario Herebia has 20 nieces and nephews. And she likes giving gifts.
Over the years, it got harder and harder for her to do that for such a large group. She had to resort to giving cash before having a change of heart.
“It’s been the best to give them personalized things,” Herebia said. “To see their faces when they realize it was made just for them is great. I like seeing that.”
Herebia’s business, The Rose Barn, is a personalization gift shop. She sells t-shirts, mugs, decor for things like wedding gifts and “pretty much anything that can be personalized.” She also runs 2-3 painting classes per month at local venues.
Along with wedding gifts, The Rose Barn also crafts gifts for other occasions like birthdays. Herebia has done some team-themed work for parents of kids in town that play sports.
“I wanted to make an OK gift into a special gift by personalizing it,” Herebia said. “I’ve done this for five years. I’m busy all the time now.”
In the next year, Herebia hopes to open up a storefront for The Rose Barn. She wants to be able to host her painting classes at her own place. She’s enjoyed having a space at The Spark Shop for people to pick up orders or see her products in person.
“You just have to keep working and be consistent and make a good product and you’ll keep growing,” Herebia said.
The hours of The Spark Shop are Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is located in the historic filling station building at 500 Lincoln Ave.