'A BUSINESS WITH A HEART'
Carol Winston, a tireless, passionate advocate for downtown Lake Oswego, says she will close Accessories from the Heart sometime in March
When Carol Winston opened her first retail store in Lake Oswego in 1998, she says she wanted it to be a business with a heart, and she vowed to use the shop for something bigger than ourselves.
In the nearly two decades since, Winston and her husband, Renner, have done exactly that.
They have nurtured personal, lasting relationships with their customers at Accessories from the Heart, offering everything from casual clothing, jewelry and handbags to picture frames and piggy banks. At the same time, Winston has forged deep connections in the community, playing key leadership roles in a variety of civic, cultural and business-related organizations.
To quote a famous observation by President Kennedy, For those to whom much is given, much is required, Winston says. Accessories from the Heart has allowed me to support the organizations in the community that I feel strongly about.
But a perfect storm of personal and professional reasons will now cause Winston to walk away from the business she loves. A retirement sale is set to begin today, and Accessories from the Heart will close its doors at Second Street and A Avenue sometime in March.
Id like it to be more of a celebration than a closing, Winston says. So I look forward to seeing a lot of our wonderfully loyal customers, and I close the doors with humility and gratitude for the people and experiences that have so enriched my life.
Winston says a significant shift in the way people shop is partly to blame for the closure. Macys recently announced that it will close dozens of stores nationwide, for example, and big-box retailers are reporting double-digit decreases in brick-and-mortar sales for 2015.
Department stores have many benefits that independent stores do not, Winston says. If they cant make it, what does the future hold for stores like mine? Ive spent the past 18 years trying to help people understand that we have everything we need here in Lake Oswego, and that we all need to support local businesses. But Im a numbers person, and our statistics in the last quarter of 2015 were challenging.
Consumers growing preference for online shopping certainly played a role, Winston says. And in the end, so did uniquely local factors: December brought record rain to Lake Oswego, and Accessories from the Heart had limited pedestrian access during the crucial holiday shopping season between Thanksgiving and mid-December because of the closure of sidewalks around the Wizer Block.
Still, Winston says, it was a personal challenge that finally made her realize it was time to walk away.
The biggest determinate came in the form of Renners colon cancer diagnosis in early November, she says. Ive loved every minute of my career as a retailer, but now its time to shift priorities to whats really important: family and friends. There isnt a stronger wake-up call than cancer.
After successful surgery last month, Renner is on the mend and Winston says the couple is looking forward to spending more time together. Renner is an excellent golfer, she says, and Im looking forward to dusting off my Callaways and getting back into the game.
A home in LO
Truth be told, the Winstons are used to spending a lot of time together. Before moving to Lake Oswego in 2000, the couple lived in West Linn and traveled across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Northern California in a 40-foot, diesel-powered motorhome, selling wholesale western apparel and accessories.
They opened their first retail shop on McVey Avenue in 1998, offering gifts and accessories with broad appeal at varied price points Brighton jewelry, watches, handbags and small gift items. Winston says the couple used profits from their wholesale business to pay down their debt and profits from the sale of the motorhome to pay for inventory and a build-out of the store.
We never had to borrow a dime, she says.
In 2009, Accessories from the Heart moved to the corner of Second Street and A Avenue in downtown Lake Oswego, adding casual clothing to the mix. Sales had flattened on McVey, Renner Winston says. All of the energy was downtown.
Carol Winston calls it the best move I ever made in my retail career. It was very exciting like starting all over again. I loved the design process and watching it all come together.
She credits her staff for the shops success nine dedicated and talented women with 81 combined years of service through the shop to the community and says Accessories from the Heart ran smoothly whether she was in the store or not.
I trust them with my life and my livelihood, Winston says. These women know their job and they do it well. They are interested in the customer, not simply in selling a product. I couldnt have been involved in all of my extracurricular activities without their support.
The list of those extracurricular activities is extensive.
Winston is a past president of the Lake Oswego Rotary Club, which gave her its vocational service award in 2008. She served as an assistant district governor and a district trainer for Rotary District 5100 and emceed the local clubs fundraising Lobster Feed four times, raising more than $75,000 over the years with the Shop & Awe auction packages she donated.
Winston graduated from Leadership Lake Oswego in 2000. In 2002, she served as president of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce and is the current president of the Lake Oswego Arts Council. She sits on the prison advisory council at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. And until recently, when she began to cut back on her activities to care for her husband, she was the chairwoman of the Chambers downtown Lake Oswego Business Alliance (LOBA).
In 2009, the Chamber named Accessories from the Heart its small business of the year. In 2014, it honored Winston with the Community Leader of the Year award.
One only need attend a single meeting with Carol to see that she is an exceptional human being and a leaders leader, says Chamber Executive Director Keith Dickerson. She exudes passion while serving the public good wholeheartedly and with great effect.
Bob Martinsson, owner of the Glance eyewear boutique next door to Accessories from the Heart, says Winston has an unflagging dedication to the downtown Lake Oswego community, pointing to the annual fall Wine Walk that Winston helped create four years ago to put feet on the street in the downtown core and to her role in launching LOBA. The group of downtown merchants convened in 2012 with around 12 members and now boasts almost 60.
In her roles with LOBA and the Chamber, Winston has often served as the liaison between downtown businesses and city leaders. Just last summer, she worked closely with Assistant City Manager Megan Phelan to make sure the downtown core was included in plans for the NW Natural Street of Dreams. Among the results: a weekend trolley that ferried showgoers to downtown shops, restaurants and attractions.
Carol was a supporter of the Street of Dreams from the beginning, Phelan says. She saw an opportunity to drive business into downtown Lake Oswego and was a fantastic partner right from the start.
Brant Williams, the citys redevelopment director, also worked closely with Winston on a number of projects.
Carol is one of those civic-minded community members we could always count on, Williams says. As a volunteer on a number of city committees, her perspective as both a Lake Oswego business owner and resident was insightful and highly valued. And of course, Carol has always been a delight to work with.
When developer Patrick Kessi began construction of his new mixed-use project on the Wizer Block, he, too, turned to Winston to be a liaison with the business community.
The joy of getting to know Carol was respecting a person who always had the community in her heart and whose actions leave an indelible and positive influence on many of the things she touches, Kessi says. Carols leadership may change course, but her influence on Lake Oswego will not fade.
For her part, Winston says she feels grateful for the great working relationships shes had with city officials. She remains optimistic about the future of downtown, and the role Kessis project will play there.
I have been a strong, silent proponent of Block 137 since its inception, she says. I think its completion in 2017 is going to make a remarkably positive difference for the business community. It will bring new customers, and it will give the community renewed vitality and a larger selection of goods and services.
Winstons fellow business owners say its that kind of tireless support that they will miss. But more than that, they say theyll miss the person behind the advocacy.
Its hard to give her enough accolades, says Dyke Vandenburgh, owner of Dyke Vandenburgh Jewelers on A Avenue. Her business savvy has been so admired by all of us who share in this small, intimate community of businesses, and Accessories from the Heart has been a source of pride. We will miss her fun and engaging personality, too.
Susan Olson, the owner of nearby World Class Wines, says Winston was the first person to welcome her to the community.
Carol made a point of getting me involved in all things Lake Oswego and was a great mentor, Olson says. She has been a pillar of the business community, given so much of herself and her time and will be dearly missed. From the bottom of my heart: Thank you, Carol, and best of luck in your new adventures.
Kristy Higgins, owner of Step It Up Dance Studio, says she will miss Winstons drive, ambition and unconditional support for all of us in the community.
She may be closing her storefront, Higgins says, but she is not leaving the community or our hearts.
Martinsson and others are quick to point out that Winstons efforts have extended far beyond downtown Lake Oswego. She is a tireless advocate for the arts, he says, and Arts Council Executive Director Nancy Nye says that Winstons legacy exemplifies the critical importance of local businesses partnering with nonprofit organizations to create a thriving community.
She is one of those rare individuals who understand that when we work together, everyone wins, Nye says. Her first thought is always about what she can give and she has given so much. Her vision and deep commitment to the idea of working together toward a common goal has made a tremendous impact.
Nye says Winston is one of the most gracious people I know. She has that rare gift of making everyone in the room feel valued, because she embodies a deep respect for everyones contribution. She is the kind of community leader that only comes along once in a great while. She has been a mentor and a friend. I have been extremely blessed to have worked with her.
Winston has developed a reputation for never saying no to the groups and organizations that come looking for help with their fundraising efforts. Over the years, Winston and Accessories from the Heart have supported Clackamas Womens Services, Dress for Success, Africa Bridge, Water4Africa, Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center, Soroptomists, the Rotary International Foundation, the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation and many others.
Its a unique role that small, independent businesses play, Winston says, and that worries her.
It has been so rewarding to be in a position to use Accessories from the Heart for something bigger than ourselves, she says. But every year, I receive more than 100 requests for charitable contributions. Who is going to fill that void for all the school auctions, etc.?
Winston says she will continue to be a player in the community and will be looking for other volunteer opportunities. But she says she will miss her daily walks to the bank and post office and the interaction with all of my buddies.
Most of all, she says she is going to miss our great customers, who have shared their stories with us over the years. Stories that made us laugh and sometimes cry. Loyal customers are what every business strives for, and weve been fortunate to have many.
One of Winstons fondest memories involves one of those customers a 9-year-old boy named Ben who lived down the street from her original shop on McVey. Tears fill her eyes as she recounts the story:
Ben would ride his bike to the shop, always parking it on the mat right in front of our front doors. He was an enthusiastic child whose infectious smile could light up a room. The store became his after-school beacon. I tried to involve him in some simple chores like taking out the trash so he could make a little spending money.
One day, Ben came into the shop very excited about a trip he was making to visit his grandmother in Arizona. This would be his first unaccompanied flight, and it was his idea to take a special gift to her. I asked what kind of budget we had to work with, and he pulled a small handful of coins from his pocket. I said, We can definitely make this work.
Obviously, this wasnt about the money. It was about making a great memory for a little boy who had few options. Together, we found something Ben thought would be perfect for his grandmother. We took special care to wrap the gift, putting it in one of our bags with a lot of tissue and ribbons streaming down each side. Ill never forget the pride I felt as Ben peddled enthusiastically away from the store, heading for the airport and his big adventure.
A few months later, my friend Ben came in the shop to introduce me to his lovely grandmother, who was visiting from Arizona. She took me aside and recounted Bens arrival at the Phoenix airport. She said he came running down the jetway with his backpack, waving her precious gift high above his head like its contents were as priceless as a blue box from Tiffanys.
She told me it was the most cherished gift shed ever received, as Ben had done this entirely on his own. I explained to her that Bens thoughtfulness had impacted me as much as it did her. And after all these years, I remember this as though it were yesterday.
Thanks, Ben, for the memories.