A new store is joining the ranks of businesses located along Hillsboro's Main Street. Blackboard Mercantile, will neighbor with Evi Salon in the downtown building located at 229 South Main Street.
The boutique, owned by Jenna (Alex) Holtschulte, will offer a variety of specialty items to local shoppers, including home decor, general gifts, greeting cards and stationery, and children's items. The merchandise will be interchangeable and everything sold will be carefully curated by Holtschulte.
"A lot of what Blackboard Mercantile will carry are brands that I, and my family, have been personally using for years. I want to offer things that we (locals) generally have to travel to purchase. I personally try to shop locally whenever I can, but we all know there are certain items that are just not available in our area. Hopefully, Blackboard Mercantile will bring more closer to home."
While the store is new, the vision behind it is not. The name Blackboard Mercantile is a tribute to Holtschulte's paternal grandmother, Hazel Furness. Holtschulte, has always been artistic, a trait that she attributes to both Furness and her maternal grandmother, Shirlee Chapin.
Both women, who were artistic in their own rights, recognized and fostered Holtschulte's creativity. Holtschulte lived only a mile away from her Grandma Furness and spent much of her childhood playing in her grandmother's basement with her cousins.
Her grandmother, who was a teacher, had an old blackboard in her basement that had been taken from a school house in Witt. With her grandmother's encouragement, Holtschulte spent much of her time drawing on the board, developing her craft.
"The blackboard was a huge part of my childhood. It came from a one-room school house in Witt, and hung in my Grandma Hazel’s basement throughout my childhood. She always encouraged me to create and praised all of my work, even when it was not great. It was as if she knew that what I thought of as doodling was going to be a strength.”
While she has always loved drawing, especially lettering, her infatuation with calligraphy really cemented when she learned to write in cursive, in the third grade. It was around the same time that her calligraphy obsession took off, that Holtschulte began nurturing the secret dream of one day having a place to display her work and the items that she loves.
"When I was younger, my family would take us to this little boutique in Decatur. I loved everything about it. I loved the carefully selected items, I loved the atmosphere, but mostly I loved the hand-lettered, beautifully set-up displays. Throughout my time in school, career counselors would ask about my long term career goals, but I never had the guts to tell them that all I wanted was to share the things I loved and to display them in a cute storefront window."
Her life-long dream has come to fruition and the same blackboard that fostered Holtschulte's budding talent in her youth will be the centerpiece of her store, Blackboard Mercantile.
"I am beyond excited to open Blackboard Mercantile in Hillsboro. I never thought that I would get to open a shop so soon, let alone in my hometown," said Holtschulte. "Brian Lee (of Brian Lee Carpentry of Hillsboro and the building's owner) was instrumental in this decision. He approached Alex and I about a building he was going to begin renovating and asked if we would be interested in it. I told him about my long-held dream and the blackboard, and he took over from there. I have no words that can do his talents justice, but the thought and heart he puts into his work is visually evident. He incorporated touches of the schoolroom feel into the structural elements of the building. It is beyond anything I imagined in all of the years I spent dreaming of my own store front"
While Lee and (Alex) Holtschulte were the driving, and manual, force behind getting the storefront operational, Holtschulte also attributes the courage to make this leap to the community.
She began making and selling personalized, hand-crafted items through her in-home business, Jai Renee, alongside her business partner Anna Limbaugh.
"Jai Renee kind of developed out of thin air. It started as an idea that Anna and I had about how we could combine our skills. We really started Jai Renee to sell items at local craft fairs but the demand was unreal. I do not think either of us expected that so many people would be interested in purchasing our items."
While Jai Renee was Holtschulte's first taste of monetizing her unique skill set, public demand for her to personalize items began long beforehand.
Beginning in college, peers would comment on Holtschulte's self-personalized notebooks, even asking her to create books and other items for them.
As she entered into adulthood, this demand did not stop. She often had family members and friends bring her chalkboards and other items, asking her to personalize them.
They even asked her to help them in decorating their homes, a tribute to her exquisite taste and eye for style, which will be utilized in purchasing for Blackboard Mercantile.
Holtschulte credits Jai Renee with not only bolstering her confidence in her abilities but giving her an avenue to improve her skills as well.
"I would have never guessed that I would be opening a store before my kids were grown or that it would be right here, in Hillsboro. It is so clear to me that this was God’s plan all along. He has shown up in even the smallest details of Blackboard Mercantile. I am proud to have been raised here and even more proud to raise my kids here. We all love Hillsboro and those who are working to make it an even better place to live. We are excited to be a part of building up our small town," said Holtschulte. “None of this would be possible without the full support of both of our families. We can not thank our parents enough for supporting our dreams and being the foundation of our store opening. To everyone who has supported us in the past, we thank you and can’t wait to see you in our store.”
Future patrons will get their first chance to view Blackboard Mercantile, during its grand opening on Friday Sept. 6, from 5 to 9 p.m. and Saturday Sept. 7, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The store will hold regular hours Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information or to view select items follow Blackboard Mercantile online on Facebook and Instagram.