A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Why I Love Living Above Our Shop
Have you ever been set on one path in life, only to have a fork in the road appear in front of you when you least expected it?
If so, I can relate. My journey as a small business owner has been full of twists and turns. Fortunately, they’ve led me to something even better than what I could’ve imagined for myself: getting to run and live above our sustainable shop in Historic Littleton, Colorado.
In this post, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at how Juniperseed Mercantile got to where we are today. We’ll also share a bit about the history of living above shops, why we love running our small business living above the shop, and how you can support local businesses near you.
DIY to Brick-and-Mortar: How Juniperseed Mercantile Began
My first venture into making sustainable products was far from pre-planned. I wanted safe, earth-friendly products to use in my home.
But many of these alternatives came with a steep premium. And not all of the products with a “green” label measured up to what I wanted to use for my own family.
Since I was very young, I’ve always loved making things, trying new crafts, inventing games, learning about plants. I come from a long line of do-it-yourself, thrifty, crafty folks, so it came to me very naturally that I should figure out how to make the things I needed myself. That way, I knew what went into each item and could avoid the premium markups. I tinkered with everything from lotion to healing salves to bathroom cleaners.
The funny thing is that it didn’t feel like something new. Instead, it felt like a natural continuation of my core values and family history.
My Family’s Sustainable Roots
My Oma, my grandmother, instilled an appreciation of sustainable, resource-smart living in me from the time I was young — long before eco-friendly choices were in the spotlight. She grew up in World War Two Germany, where self-sufficiency was essential. I remember watching her cut old clothes into cleaning rags and mix up her own cleaning solution. She had a homemade remedy for everything that ailed us (and it almost always included chamomile), and never sat down without a basket of mending in her lap.
Making my own earth-friendly supplies was a way to connect with her. Not to mention a practical step for my family. And, to my surprise, my friends and coworkers showed interest in what I was making, too!
Over time, the business grew from selling my homemade wares out of a picnic basket under my desk at school to opening Juniperseed Mercantile’s first brick and mortar store. We had a workshop and kitchen where we could create our products. Our website and etsy shop were doing well, and wholesale orders were rolling in. Now local customers, too, could come inside our workshop, see what we were working on, and engage with the process.
At that point, I thought we were set. But then, as it often happens, an unexpected opportunity came along.
How Walking the Dog Led Us to Our New Home
My wife and I were in a great place. The workshop in Littleton was thriving, despite the uncertainty caused by a global pandemic, we’d just remodeled our house, and we were training our sweet French Bulldog puppy, Hank.
Starting another shop was the farthest thing from our minds.
Then one afternoon, the weather was simply too beautiful to stay indoors. And with a new puppy, we wanted to take every opportunity to get out and socialize. So we packed up to walk the streets and have lunch on the patio at Smokin’ Fins in downtown Littleton.
Our Moment of Realization
Having the flexibility to enjoy time together and be outside, whether in nature or in urban settings is one of our favorite parts of entrepreneurship. So as we strolled Main Street, we were thinking about how grateful we were for how things were going and chatting about what might be next for us.
That’s when we saw it: a row of new condos on Nevada Street under construction with a “live-work space” sign in the window on the ground floor.
Right then and there, we both felt our hearts beat a little faster, and suddenly knew this was our next step.
And, though Hank didn’t know it yet, he was about to make a whole lot of new friends.
A Brief History of “Living Above the Shop”
Throughout much of history, people often lived and worked in the same place. Some people made products and sold them from their own homes or farms. Others owned shops with space above them for living.
Back in Frontier America, visiting the General Store or “Mercantile” was a highlight of the week. Families got up early on Saturday and put on their nice clothes, then went to buy what they needed for the week and chat with their friends and neighbors. Oftentimes, the shopkeeper also served as a apothecarist, preparing remedies, ointments and salves for common ailments.
As communities grew, shopping centers were still a center of activity. If you walked down the street of an early 20th century town, you’d find bakers and butchers and apothecaries who lived in cozy apartments above their stores. Littleton, itself, has vestiges of these times in the old building styles all along Main Street, with apartments above most of the stores in town.
In those times, coming into the stores was social as much as it was economic. These local shops were at the heart of the community – places of connection and sharing.
Why Shopping Changed in the 21st Century
The Industrial Revolution started to change these habits. More people started to work in factories or larger businesses and live separate from their occupation. Then after World War Two, the rise of suburban living changed the landscape of communities even more.
Slowly, shopping became less personal. Speed and convenience were the name of the game for shoppers. And for merchants and makers, profit and efficiency became top priorities. Big box stores became the norm.
Now, here we are in the 21st century. With self-checkouts, online shopping, and front door delivery, you now can go through your whole shopping process without ever talking to another person.
Our Modern Quest for More Connection
Despite this shift to a distant consumerism, I believe most people still long for a personal touch and social connection when they go to the store.
Have you noticed that older people tend to go to smaller neighborhood stores and shop at the same place every week? They like being greeted by name by cashiers and visiting with people they know while they shop.
It isn’t only our senior community members who want and need more chances to interact. More people are searching for a way to return to a simple, slow way of life — one where it’s not out of the ordinary to take time to chat and get to know your neighbors.
And for me and Juniperseed Mercantile, this way of working and living has been a perfect fit.
Getting Set Up in a New Home and Shop
When we first dove in, the process of selling our home and setting up a new store seemed overwhelming. But we moved forward, trusting it would be worth it in the end. (And it has been!)
We worked closely with Littleton City to make sure we’d be able to set up shop in Downtown Littleton. Their one worry was that the retail area would be too small. We called it cozy – “Littleton’s Littlest!” The City was wonderful about answering all our questions, helping us find the best resources to get our space ready for retail.
Long story short, we were sold — and we went under contract within the week.
Why I Love Living Above Our Zero-Waste Shop
Now, we’re enjoying life above our second brick-and-mortar store on Historic Downtown Littleton Main Street. It’s hard work, but we couldn’t be happier. Sometimes it feels a bit like a dream, something too good to be true.
Here’s why I love living above our shop.
A Work-Life Balance That Works for Me
First, I get to put my heart into the business and make it a big part of my life. Since the early days, I’ve worked on Juniperseed Mercantile because I’m deeply passionate about it. Many weeks, I work over 60 hours a week “downstairs” in the store and at our nearby workshop where I continue to make our products.
Then I go upstairs and keep daydreaming and chatting with my wife about new things I can make or ways to improve our products. I love being so close to the business and having it be at the center of my family. It may sound like 60 hours a week doesn’t leave room for work-life balance, but having my work embedded in my life is surprisingly freeing. The pace is slower and more enjoyable than when I had to cram all of my work into 8 hours and then still bring work home (as I did when I was a teacher).
Being Close to the Community
Second, living above the store lets us be deeply engaged with the community. Downtown Littleton’s charming atmosphere is matched by the lovely people who live, work, and shop here. We get to spend lots of time on our patio with Hank, visiting with people (and dogs) who walk by.
Our neighbors have become like a second family. And we’re honored when our customers let us become part of their lives. They come in to refill their products, and tell us about what’s going on. After a particularly engaging conversation, one of us will say, “and what is your name?” It’s a wonderful moment that happens too infrequently in this day and age. It means, “I value this connection, and want to know you again.” What a great feeling! Getting to know them inspires us to keep working on products that really meet their needs. And when they return to find that I’ve formulated a product just for them, they truly become part of the Juniperseed Mercantile family.
Hosting workshops and gatherings is another one of our biggest delights. We love these intimate settings where we can learn, create, and relax together. When people come back to subsequent events with friends, we’re overjoyed.
Time for Simplicity and Connection
Third, this arrangement gives me hope for a return to a simpler, more connected time. I feel like we’ve become a little zero-waste hub that’s a haven for others who want to live more intentionally. I dream of a day when every community has a space like this.
Growing with Other Local Small Businesses
And finally, being in a center for small business lets my wife and I form relationships with other small business owners and entrepreneurs. We get to know each other and support one another in running our businesses. It’s a win for everyone — and we all grow together.
How You Can Support Small Businesses In Your Area
Even if you don’t live above a shop or run a small business, you can play a big role in cheering on the local businesses in your area. Here are four things you can do to become a small business supporter.
Learn What Businesses Are Near You
If you don’t know what your options are, you won’t be able to use them. So the first step to becoming a small business supporter is to discover the businesses near you.
You might be surprised at what small businesses you can find in your area. Even though I’ve been living in the Littleton area for quite some time, I still find hidden gems now and then.
Try searching the Chamber of Commerce or a local business directory to get an idea of what’s around you. Or, you can use my go-to method: taking walks and getting a firsthand look at what’s happening in your area.
Choose Local First Whenever You Can
Once you know what’s around, you can start to shop small whenever possible.
For example, instead of going to a big-box store, you could:
Search a local craft store to buy fabric or yarn for your next project
Pick up bread or pastries from a small bakery
- Grab coffee at a small cafe with a purpose
Check the secondhand shop for something fun to wear
Find a bouquet at a local florist
Check to see if there’s a dentist, a chiropractor, a physical therapist, tattoo artist or other service providers
When you shop small, you support your local economy and the families who run and work in these businesses. This helps the entire community flourish, and reduces your carbon footprint!
You can also get tips, advice, and recommendations from experts. The lady at the garden store may know why your tomato plants keep dying. Or perhaps the person behind the book shop counter can help you find a novel that matches your tastes.
This brings us to the next way to support small businesses.
Build Relationships with Small Business Owners
You can become part of a bustling community by getting to know your local business owners. Don’t be afraid to linger and chat with them when you’re shopping. Learn about their lives, their business mission, and what they love about the neighborhood. And let them get to know you, too. Maybe you’ll team up to work on a project together, like this pumpkin pole display we collaborated with Five Well-Being Spa and PlayForge Games on!
Once you’re engaged with local businesses, you can help them grow by telling others. Share your finds with family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers.
If a business has an online presence, you can leave a positive review, tag them in a social media post, or like their page.
Each of these things may seem simple. But they make a big difference — for you, for small business owners, and for your community.
A Home, a Store, and a Pup
I wish I could tell Hank that he was, in his own way, the catalyst for this happy turn of events in our lives. But in lieu of that, I’ll keep treating him to plenty of walks, bellyrubs, and sustainable dog treats from Zoey’s.
I feel so lucky to be living above our shop and seeing our little piece of Colorado blossom. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing more about our story and that you’re inspired to go out and discover the hidden treasures in your city.
What’s your go-to small business? How did you first discover them? Let me know in the comments!
Living Above the Store – New York Times
Old-Fashioned Pioneer General Stores – Legends of America