When SAIL Member Janice Durand started The Puzzlebox in 1979, her State Street location and line of one-of-a-kind specialty toys made the store a success. The store’s unique products and local flare were so popular that Janice expanded the business to two stores in Milwaukee and one in St. Louis.
Then came the 1980s, when free trade agreements and the internet changed retail forever. Many of the special products you could once only get at The Puzzlebox were now available at national chains. Over time Janice sold three of the stores to former managers and closed the one in St. Louis. By the early nineties, all of the toy stores closed, unable to compete with the corporate competition.
In 1990 Janice had opened a new store, Little Luxuries, that sold women’s accessories, and she developed a concept that managed to compete in the new era. Due to Janice’s business acumen and the work of the store’s current owner, Amy Moore, the business is still up and running.
About the store
Little Luxuries, situated at 230 State Street, has carved its niche by providing “a delightful collection of gifts for all!” The store has a huge variety of items, including bath products, candles, home decor, sunglasses, children items, and Janice’s favorite: puzzles!
“Little Luxuries still exists because of the high-quality products, Janice says. The unique items are unlikely to be found at other stores or even online.
Janice can also attest to the power of foot traffic. “When people are on State Street, they want to shop,” she says. “People who are going to Overture want to shop.” She continues that State Street was once a location where small businesses could flourish. “State Street used to be famous for being a start-up space,” she continues, remembering that new, local companies could find spaces on the heavily-trafficked street for low rent.
Things have changed quite a bit on State Street since the ’70s. “The biggest danger is the rent!” Janice asserts. Rising rent costs have made it extremely difficult for small businesses to keep their doors open. Favorite locations like Sacred Feather, the Fanny Garver Gallery, Yellow Jersey Bike Shop, Tellus Mater, Gino’s Restaurant, and more have closed up shop in the past decade, and have cited rising rents as the reason.
Coming to town in many of their places have been restaurant chains, who have the money to afford the rent. Still, there are many empty storefronts. “Those are the places that are too small for chains,” Janice explains. More restaurants have opened on State Street than there used to be, but many of those go under as well. Janice explains that it’s really the people who own their buildings who can afford to stay there.
Adjusting to COVID-19
As if skyrocketing rent wasn’t enough, the current pandemic has made things nearly impossible. Still, Janice asserts, current Little Luxuries owner Amy Moore has done a wonderful job adjusting.
“They are open,” Janice says. According to the website, only 10 customers at a time are allowed in the store, masks must be worn, and hand sanitizer is readily available. Janice went in recently and bought a new purse, “which I need like a hole in the head!” she laughs. “But that’s what happens when you go in there.”
The store is also offering curbside pickups, and some of their products are available online. Employees have their temperature checked before starting their shift, surfaces are cleaned after each visitor, and only credit cards are accepted.
Keeping small businesses afloat
Janice says an important thing about small businesses is that they are willing to work with you to get you the products and support you need. “I recently called Amy and she walked me around the store [on her phone’s video function] so I could find what I wanted,” Janice says. She also says that if you know a store and their merchandise well, you should call them and ask what they have. People will be happy to help you.
“It’s all very stressful,” Janice says. “If we want to see small businesses survive, we have to support them. Most are open and they will work with you.” In short, Janice encourages all SAIL Members and members of the entire community to support local businesses as much as they possibly can during this crisis. The one-of-a-kind merchandise and customer service are something we need to keep in our community, and these types of businesses support the city with jobs, rent, and tax dollars.
While State Street may not ever again be the small business hub it once was, it is still an important part of Madison’s past and hopefully its future. We hope you’ll check out ways to support the small businesses there and throughout Madison! Thank you, Janice, for sharing your entrepreneurial insights and enthusiasm!
Little Luxuries website (Note: To shop online, click the shopping cart in the upper right-hand corner). The store’s phone number is 608-255-7372. Hours are 10-7 Monday through Saturday and 12-4 on Sunday. You can schedule a personal shopping appointment by calling the store or online here.
State Street Business Directory
“With retailers packing their storefronts, many worry about the future of State Street” – The Badger Herald
Historic Photos of State Street – Wisconsin Historical Society
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