When Kellye Wilson first arrived on the shores of Lake Michigan a dozen years ago on a wintry day her first thought was "Mark my words, there's no way I'm ever moving to St. Joseph." A few minutes later she was walking down the street carrying the first thing she had ever purchased in St. Joseph, a TV tray with lemons on it, which she had acquired at Perennial Accents. Multiple people stopped her to ask her where she got the tray, to which she replied, " There’s the cutest little shop on the corner over there called Perennial Accents."
Fast forward to a moment earlier this fall when she was in a board meeting at Lory's Place where she has served as a volunteer Children's Grief Facilitator. Somebody in the meeting mentioned that the Perennial Accents business was for sale. She says, "I started packing my things up in the middle of the meeting, and they asked, 'Do you need to go?' and I said, 'Yeah, I need to excuse myself,' after which I drove immediately to the store, walked in the door and said, 'We need to talk.'" Now...she is the new owner and operator of her favorite store in all the world and is walking on air.
Kellye had been in the corporate world for years. Whirlpool was what brought her to St. Joe in the first place, where she became a Senior Sales Manager and later Director of Sales for Gladiator GarageWorks. She also has extensive experience with LifeTouch National School Studios and more. In fact, she tells me, "My resume is a little bit funny, in that it’s the perfect conglomeration of where I’m at in this role. I had seven years in retail related to buying for Macy’s Department Stores, and then a small men’s shop, and then I was in the restaurant industry so when I started for Whirlpool, then their Insperience Studio which was the model that the World of Whirlpool in Chicago is modeled after, and I was in charge of events and training. So, I coordinated all of the cooking classes, worked with CookingLight in the Summer series, coordinated with Better Homes & Gardens for their big national cake bake off, and so gathered a lot of experience from doing that, and sales has been my world after that."
She admits, "The opportunity just presented itself, from a financial standpoint, and a timing standpoint, and all of a sudden I had all the pieces together and told the ladies I wanted to buy the place." She says, "It has been a beautiful experience, and fortunately for me, my vision for what I wanted to do in this space, and morph it into, was very much in alignment with what Linda and her daughters Sheila and Vicki wanted, and so they chose me to take the reins after 23 years of the loving care that they put into Perennial Accents."
She knew exactly what she wanted and grabbed for the brass ring, admitting, "At no point did I feel like I couldn’t do this, so I did." She says then one day, "My mom actually called me from Atlanta and says, 'Honey, sounds like you bought your Barbie Doll Dream House, have you looked into this very much?' I answered, 'Yes, Mother! This really is it.'"
Her drive is readily evident as you chat with Kellye. She'll tell you, "I’m a Southern woman and I show love for my family through food in the kitchen and food coming out of the kitchen," and adds, "I love to decorate my home, and always have. So this store is just that perfect mixture of everything that’s been in my resume, and everything that I’m passionate about. It kind of rolls it all together."
Best of all, Kellye says, "It’s working out great, we’re going to kick off cooking classes again starting in January. We’re going to roll out with a pretty full schedule, and try to get the local customer’s from around town back into the shop and downtown this winter and coming to cooking classes again. It’s gonna be a lotta fun."
She has no plans to change things up much at all. She says, "People have asked if I’m going to change the name, and I say 'no way!' because Perennial Accents was the first shop that I walked into when I moved to St. Joe more than 12 years ago, and bought something." That was when she bought that TV tray, and she says, "That was my first weekend here. The store has made a huge impression on me ever since, so I’m looking at just layering on top of what those ladies did so well here and just take it up a notch, just a little bit."
Going forward Kellye says, "The culinary classes will be a little more diverse, in that I want people in our community that are really good at making something to come in and show us how to make it. It doesn’t have to be an Executive Chef, even though we’ll have plenty of those in here too. I kind of want to do a mix of that, and then I’m going to really expand Gardening & Outdoor Living, because in Michigan our outdoor living spaces are so important. I know I have a big wrap around porch and a screen room porch, and when it comes time to decorate, those two have been just as important as the main parts of my home, so I want to offer things for our local customers here that they can do the same."
I asked Ms. Wilson what item in the store really fascinates her the most, and like most of us who visit she said, "The kitchen gadget wall never ceases to amaze me, and I find something new every time I look at it. We have a gadget for so many different tasks that you could possibly do in the kitchen so that every day I’m like, 'Hey did you know we have this?' We often do that as a team, let’s play this thing that you found in the shop that you didn’t know that we have and share it with others, because there’s just so much here."
The remarkable product line up in the store turns a lot of heads and Kellye says, "I think it’s kind of cool that I liken this to a mini-Macy’s, in that we’ve got things for the consumer for everyday needs in the kitchen and in their home, but then gifts too, so it’s a fun mixture and I can’t wait to go to the big cookware show in Chicago in March and see what other kinds of cool gadgets that we can find. I have never really thought that way from the food side of the house. It's great to have all of these fun things at your fingertips, and this is going to be great."
Men love the store too and she promises they’ll especially love it on Saturdays, "Because food comes out of this kitchen just about all day on Saturdays. Tracey does a great, great job with that, and we’re bringing in a little heavier on the gourmet food side just to help everyone with those staples and so that we can help demonstrate to our customers, you can have Chicken Marsala on a Wednesday night and it’s not that big of a deal. So, anything that we can do to help enrich everybody’s lives through food, and the preparation of the food, and then the surroundings in which you enjoy the food, we’re going to be a good resource for that."
In addition to Tracey, Kellye is ecstatic over her entire team which also includes Stacey and Serena who keep the place running like a well oiled machine with excellence in customer service every day.
Perrenial Accents is currently operating on holiday hours, so you'll find them in the house Monday through Thursday from 10a to 6pm, Friday and Saturday from 10am til 8pm, and she says, "The customer is starting to learn that because at first from 6 to 8 was nothing and now we’re getting more traffic," and on Sundays the store is open from 11am to 5pm. By being open every day Kellye says, "I think its important to be that local resource for a quick gift, especially with our free gift wrapping, and always, always, always learning from the customer, and asking for their feedback, and I don’t ever want to miss a day to do that. I personally love to be here on the weekends just because I really want to learn from the customer what they want to see and whether there are things I need to look for at the trade show, it’s just exciting."
Originally from Atlanta, Kellye says she spent the first 40 years of her life there. She admits that even though she told her husband that one winter day, 'mark my words, we’re not moving to St. Joe, Michigan,' you never say never because that usually seals the deal, but I love it here, fell in love with it, and now we live in Edgewater Dunes so, while I used to drive 35 to 40-thousand miles a year around the state of Michigan for LifeTouch, now I drive one mile to work and hit one red light and get to look out the window and see Lake Michigan, and I’m just over the moon, literally just over the moon in love with this opportunity."
Kellye has advice for anyone who has a dream like hers. She tells me, "I thought I was going to wait until I retire to do this, but circumstances changed and I was able to think about things differently, and thought 'what am I waiting for? This is my dream, what am I waiting for? The timings right, you love the store,'" and admits, "I fell in love with the three women that worked here, and they continue to just stay a part and keep tabs and help us out, it’s just amazing."
She pointed out, as former co-owner Vicki walked by, "Vicki’s coming in to do an emergency wreath for me. That shows the integrity. She promised a customer months ago that she would do this, and she wanted to stick to her word with it. It’s been a beautiful experience, I can’t imagine if this hadn’t happened the way it did. I wake up with a smile on my face every day and say, Okay, today I’m gonna….and can’t wait to get to work. I can’t stay away even on my 'days off.' It’s the one place I want to be."
She hopes it's the place you want to be, too and hopes to see you soon. Maybe even during tonight's Merry & Bright celebrations in downtown St. Joe. Her smile alone could light up the bluff, so stop in and say hi.