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Cool Store: Churchill

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Kansas store combines taste, elegance with a friend-of-the-family style sense of welcoming

THE BUILDING WAS A SENTIMENTAL SPOT. The former colonial-style brick bakery produced fresh-baked cookies that tempted the teenage Sally Hilkene after swim-team practice and produced her family’s birthday cakes. The name Churchill, which Hilkene christened her Fairway, KS, store was a sentimental choice, too: the middle name of her youngest son. “It’s my baby, and it was named for my baby,” she explains. “He was the only one left at home and he was going to have to share my time with the business.” Beyond those two indulgences, Churchill stars in suburban Kansas through Hilkene’s hard work, skilled staff and a fascination with design: “My taste doesn’t stop with one certain style. I love all jewelry.” — HARRIET HOWARD HEITHAUS

Churchill

FAIRWAY, KS
URL: www.shopatchurchills.com
OWNERS: Sally Hilkene
FOUNDED: 2003
RETAIL AREA: 2,000 square feet
ANNUAL REVENUE: More than $1 million
EMPLOYEES: 6 to 8
TOP BRANDS: Sevan, Yossi Harari, Loree Rodkin, Erica Courtney, Yves, Kamioner, Arunashi, Ara, Erickson Beamon, Marissa Perry, Jamie Wolf and Armenta

Store Photo Gallery

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Five Cool Things About This Store

Paupress to Princess

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Come in a sack; leave a haute mama

1 Churchill is a near-complete fashion package. It offers accessories and dresses as well as jewelry from costume to estate. Women have been known to walk in wearing the basics — a dress and shoes — and tell Hilkene’s staff to “fix me up.” “It happens all the time. My staff is incredible — we fully outfit them and dress them and they’re fine with it,” Hilkene says. She and her staff particularly like to work with their own evening wear and have ideas on how to bejewel a rosette-strewn dress from Lie Sang or find glitter that stands up to a Jenny Packham beaded gown. “My staff, before I hired them, were all designers in their own right — either interior, jewelry or fashion. They come in with their own artistic vision,” Hilkene explains.

Every inch works

Hand-painting the doors

2 A newcomer passing Churchill might mistake it for a Victorian shop with its brick façade and ornately decorated windows. Flower boxes spill blooms in the summer; evergreen topiaries and crystal ice lights herald Christmas. The interior front door is Swedish comb-painted. Antique urns, hand-painted chests and gilded mirrors create a coziness abetted by Hilkene’s chandelier lighting, which adds a warm glow to its 2,000-plus square feet. A chocolate-brown concrete floor is upgraded by a border of black stone and Oriental carpets at intervals that suggest a fine family home while hinting at the store’s other business — home interiors. “I don’t want to look like a department store,” Hilkene says. “Every surface is hand-painted. I’ve taken this old bakery building and totally redecorated it.” The ambience combines elegance with a friend-of-the-family welcome.

Estates and upstarts

Space for both classic and estate

3 Churchill’s employees make its display cases three-dimensional art, but there’s no price-point surprise for the customer. There’s clear delineation of fine jewelry, which is to the left of the entrance. Fashion is beyond that on the same side, and estate jewelry is across from both. “I try to do exclusive lines that no one else in (adjacent Kansas City) has,” says Hilkene. “I do more up-and-comers from France and Italy.” She also gleefully points out on her website when the designers she carries show up in Hollywood or high-end fashion magazines. A glance at the “In the news” page of her website shows Angelina Jolie in palm-size emerald earrings from Lorraine Schwartz and in Vogue vamping Erickson Beamon cuffs; Churchill carries both. Churchill offers private-label pieces, too, often designed by Hilkene, who studied jewelry in college, and executed by a local goldsmith.

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Loves to party

From ‘serape casual’ to Casino Royale

4 Customers can expect invitations to whimsical store soirees. A Cinco de Mayo trunk show featured margaritas and crunchy tacos. Churchill invites fans to meet visiting designers. “Scorching Hot Casino Days,” for which the store mailed poker-chip invitations to customers, is a hit. During Casino Days, customers who picked out sale items could spin a raffle wheel at the cash register to see what additional percentage of savings they would receive. “You hear that little click-click-click and everyone gets excited,” says Hilkene. “They look like little children when they’re about to spin the wheel.”

Good neighbor policy

Neighbors in the community, and RIGHT next door

5 Since 2005, a percentage of retail sales has been donated to local charities every day. “I wanted to do that from the beginning,” says Hilkene. “We name three charities a month. If nothing else, it gives them exposure.” It has brought in new visitors, and Hilkene, a long-time philanthropist, is proud of the chance to offer help. Hilkene loves her location as a stand-alone on the edge of the Georgian-style strip shopping center. The store has hosted receptions with an innovative independent bookstore there that has snared visitors including British cookbook-guru Nigella Lawson. Hilkene is also delighted with her neighbors across the street: the Fairway police station.

Five Questions With …

Sally Hilkene

HOW DO YOU SCOUT DESIGNERS?
“I want something that’s going to last. Like Sevan (Bicakci) — you could say he’s a trend, but all his designs go back. I think it’s classic designs that have been re-energized.”

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TELL US ABOUT CHURCHILL’S BREADTH OF JEWELRY DESIGN.
“I live at shows. I have to hit jewelry shows, fashion shows, gift shows, accessory shows. I think in retail, if you really want to make it special, you really have to work that much.”

WHAT WAS HARDEST ABOUT CONVERTING THE OLD BAKERY TO A BOUTIQUE?
“Actually, working with the city. I don’t want to say that in a nega-tive way, but with the permits and regulations …. I don’t face a major commercial street, but I had to fight to keep my sign.”

YOU OPEN AT 11 A.M. WHY?
“We used to open earlier. We found if you closed at 5, that’s when people were walking in the door. Summertime is when we started closing later because it was still daylight and people were still out shopping at 6:30.”

DO YOUR THREE SONS — CLANCEY, CULLEN AND WYATT — WORK WITH YOU?
“My sons have helped immensely, particularly with our website and photography. And they know more than I do. It’s hard to take orders from your children.”

More From the Owner

See more of Sally Hilkene’s thoughts on Churchill in her “My Store” essay — an online-only feature from INSTOREMAG.COM. [/important]

TRY THIS

Sample Boxes

HILKENE’S close relationship with designers has paid off in a number of ways. She receives sample boxes of prospective new lines, and an e-mail blast immediately invites customers in to see them. “We love those one-of-a-kinds. That gives an urgency to the occasion. It’s “Omigod. I gotta be there,” she says. Partnering with designers with fresh ideas has also won her boutique spreads in magazines from KC to Town & Country.

TRUE TALE.

Gift From France

One Kansas City traveler jaunts off to Paris and London, but his mother, Hilkene says, told him not to bring gifts back: “She told him she wants something from Churchill,” she exults. So after the man visited Paris recently, he came to pick something out. “The amazing thing was what he picked out I had bought in France. So she really was getting a gift from France.”

This story is from the November 2009 edition of INSTORE

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