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Boutique Blossoms in Mon Valley

 

Boutique Blossoms in Mon Valley

Artisan Arranges Antiques, Flowers and Gifts Growing Specialty Store

 

BELLE VERNON, PA – Everything’s coming up roses for Mon Valley resident Jean Ann Gallo.

Gallo, owner of Vintage and Vines on Broad Avenue, has seen business bloom since 2013 when she planted her unique home décor store in the town’s once-shuttered flower shop.

Hand-painted, farmhouse-chic antique tables and shelving units hold a unique cornucopia of specialty items from fresh and dried flowers to handcrafted soaps, jewelry and candles and an array of antiques ready to compliment any home’s interior or exterior.

“For Jean Ann, it’s a labor of love repurposing that simple wood furniture into decorative and functional units housing home gifts,” said the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Western Pennsylvania District Director Dr. Kelly Hunt. “And, the business grew when my agency’s resource partners began fertilizing her endeavor.”

“I’ve always collected antiques and grew and dried my own flowers, so it was a natural progression to start selling my goods,” Gallo, a former retail executive, explained. “In 2011, I registered the name ‘Vintage and Vines,’ and started the shop online and in rented spaces throughout the valley.”

Business was so good, when the town’s only flower shop closed, Gallo saw it as a chance to put an end to rental payments and open a Vintage and Vines storefront. “It was the prime opportunity to expand a business.” Gallo figured, “if I didn’t do it now, I was never going to open that store.”

Gallo used the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to bring her plans to fruition. Meeting with counselor Victoria Hassett, they prepared a business plan and projected financials to secure funding.

SBDCs and Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) are partially funded by SBA to help small businesses in every phase of development. “In Western Pennsylvania, we have eight SBDCs and one WBC plus four SCORE chapters comprised of current and retired volunteer executives, said Hunt. “And the best part is the counseling services are free and confidential.”

“I’m proud of Jean Ann because her business practices parallels her community efforts,” Hassett added. “She’s an artist and finds beauty in once-loved items bringing them back to life, spearheading both a store with chic and restored items coupled with a revitalization of Belle Vernon and the Mon Valley. That takes dedication and an incredible work ethic.”

Gallo began updating her store with floral coolers and new signage thanks to an SBA microloan from the Washington County Council on Economic Development (WCCED).

Microloans are an SBA program providing loans of up to $50,000, through grants to nonprofit intermediaries. Last year in Western Pa., approximately 44 entrepreneurs received more than $1.29 million in microloans for working capital or any business-related expense. The WCCED disbursed 13 loans totaling more than $607,000 for Main Street small businesses.

Gallo, not only used the WCCED loan program but its free technical assistance too. “I’ve used their free money-managing programs and they’ve even had a web designer help me create a website,” she added. “They’re always there when I needed them… a constant resource.”

Relying on her decades of retail management, Gallo marketed her flowers and gifts via direct mail and newspaper advertising plus taking her store on the road at antique fairs where loyal customers provided free word-of mouth publicity. “I added flower boxes and awning signage,” Gallo added. “In just three years, I went from 19 Valentine’s Day floral arrangements to losing count with four persons delivering in four different directions.”

That’s when Gallo decided to branch out. She took over the store next door and offered antique dealers rental space to sell their timeless treasures. She again visited WCCED using loan proceeds to add new gift items to her store: candles; wind chimes; spiritual and bereavement items; and a graceful bridal consulting room.

For Gallo, success is always about trends and presentation. “Displays need to be inviting, I’m constantly changing the windows and displays and take out what’s not selling,” she said. “People always want to decorate their house with flowers and unique items from Made in the USA artisans that they can touch and feel.”

According to Hunt, the storefront’s transformation from a room containing only ladders on the ceiling and support posts is a testament to Gallo’s artistic vision and hard work. “Now, the store resembles a French flower and gift shop,” she added.

For Gallo, small business ownership truly is a dream come true. “Every job I had, I treated it as though I owned it, and now I do.”

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