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A Creative Way to Say Thanks

A former marketing executive finds her true calling in life.

By Chandra Greer, Chicago, Illinois

As appeared in

Turquoise, lime, fuchsia! Spools of ribbon in every color of the rainbow burst from the open drawers of a vintage card catalog. Handmade cards and letterpress invitations are neatly stacked on a wooden table. Miniature soaps and gift books line the shelves of an antique walnut hutch.

And on the old library counter there’s my favorite product—Civilettes, little thank-you notes that you can hand out like business cards. That reminds me…I look around my store, Greer, and say a quick prayer of thanks. After all, this dream wouldn’t have come true without plenty of guidance from above. I started out with no experience in retail or design—just an inexplicable urge and (believe it or not) an overstuffed handbag.

Back in 1997 I was climbing the corporate ladder as an advertising executive. But the more I moved up the ranks, the less I felt like myself. I kept daydreaming about starting a new career (doing what, I wasn’t sure) where I could be really creative. So I quit. Just like that.

I know, I know. Leaving a decent job with no idea what to do next? Even I thought that was kind of crazy. “You followed your heart,” my husband, Steve, assured me. “Now you’ll find a job you really love.”

After about a month, I got some freelance marketing work, but no clearer sense of what job I could love. I would ask, Lord, have I just ruined my life? Please guide me in the right direction.

One day I was in my favorite store, poking around. Paper from all over the world, brightly colored journals, amazing gifts and the most charming thank-you cards I’d ever seen. I must’ve spent an hour browsing—I couldn’t get enough of the stuff!

Maybe that’s because those thank-you notes brought me back to my childhood. Manners were big (big!) in our house. I’m the oldest of three girls and my parents made sure that “please” and “thank you” were part of our vocabulary almost as soon as we could talk. “You’re never too busy to say thanks,” Mom would say.

I’d duck into that store between freelancing jobs—in fact, it was usually the highlight of my day. I found myself wondering, Can I make cards too? At least it would get my mind off my career worries. One day in the shop I discovered some thin Japanese paper with a butterfly design. “I’ll take this!” I said. I also bought some ribbon, parchment paper, blank note cards and envelopes.

I got home and started experimenting—gluing ribbon down, folding the parchment different ways. Playing, designing—it was so much fun! Now if only I could find that kind of joy in a real job.

“You’re a natural,” said Steve, when I showed him one of my finished butterfly cards. “You should try to sell them.”

“I don’t know…this is a great hobby, but selling them? You think?”

“I’m serious,” he said. “You’ve got talent, Chandra.”

I gave some cards to friends and they loved them, so I worked up the nerve to take the cards to a few boutiques. Each one turned me away. Great, I thought. You left your job almost a year ago and all you’ve done is play around with paper and ribbons. Way to go, Chandra. Dejected, I made one last appointment—at the paper store that had inspired me. I spread 12 of my little butterfly cards out in front of the owner. She stared at them for a good long while, not saying a word.

Lord, is this what you want me to be doing? I asked. I really need to know.

The owner looked up at me. “I’ll take them all.”

I let out a huge sigh of relief.

More orders came in and it hit me: Maybe I should open my own store. It was risky, sure, but I knew what it meant to take a leap of faith. Steve and I had a bit of money saved up that we could use. I started off with a kiosk in the mall. It did well…so well that just a year and a half after I left my advertising job, I opened Greer.