Grace Mae Design & Boutique open in De Pere
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – Ask a former police dispatcher with a fresh bachelor’s degree in psychology and human development how she found herself opening a boutique in downtown De Pere, and you may not get a straight answer.
But that’s OK for Grace Mae Design & Boutique, a new shop that stocks items made by women or from women-owned businesses in the U.S.
“I struggled with not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Brittany Smith, owner, said.
Smith’s journey to opening her boutique on the city’s west side last month didn’t happen in a straight line.
The last seven of her 33 years, she worked as a dispatcher for an area police department.
At the same time, she was studying psychology at UW-Green Bay.
On top of that, she became a mom, not once, but twice – daughters Harper Grace and Isla Mae are now 3 and 2.
On the side, she hand-painted decorative signs and made jewelry, which she sold at home parties and on Facebook.
But behind it all, the mom, student and dispatcher heard another call: Open a boutique.
In spring of this year, she decided the desire was too strong to ignore.
“I said ‘I’ve just got to do it,’” Smith said.
She found a storefront at 327 Main Ave., behind Sweet Willow Herbal Co-Op, facing the parking lot.
Smith painted the formerly pink interior walls a subdued gray, left the ceiling black, patched nail holes, installed fixtures and adorned the front window with the Grace Mae logo.
The name comes from her daughters’ middle names.
Smith has long been a person who likes to make things, especially things which involve fine detail, her mother, Bridget John said.
“This (shop) is something that was kind of like her dream, she’s always doing stuff like this,” John said. “And she had good luck with her online sales.”
Grace Mae is stocked with wood signs and decor items, clothing, soy candles, items bearing messages, such as kids’ hoodies printed with “Outdoorable” and mugs reading “Coffee now, wine later.”
Other messages might be inspirational: “Do small things with great love,” humorous: “No coffee, no workee,” or thoughtful: “Grow through what you go through.”
One door sign with a paw print on it reads, “No need to knock; we know you’re there. (Signed) The Dogs.”
Other items carry messages, too, including insulated wine tumblers, candles, mugs and more.
The ribbon that ties everything together is women.
All of the products in the store are either made by women or supplied by women-owned businesses.
Smith participated in craft shows around the area, which is where she met many of her suppliers.
“Through my network, or people in the booths around me, or friends of friends,” she said.
Over the years, she’s hosted house parties where she brings the materials and teaches attendees how to stencil or hand-letter messages onto wood and make jewelry or various other crafts.
She plans to host similar gatherings and DIY classes in a room at the back of the store, which she called the board room.
“I thought instead of doing (parties) at different houses, I could do them here,” she said.
Her store hours are different each week and can be found posted on her Facebook page @gracemaedb.
“I really wanted to focus on my daughters, which was one of the main reasons for opening the shop and why their middle names are the store’s name,” she said. “To be able to give my daughters more of my time and to focus on them while creating my own work schedule has been so great. This is for them and also to support other women in growing their own brand.”
A precaution: There are a handful of social media retail accounts out there, including on Etsy, Instagram, Facebook and Ravelry, by users in other states that use variations of the name Grace Mae but are not Smith’s, so look for her logo.