Since she founded her boutique in 2008, Kate Kemph, owner of Kie&Kate Couture in Elmhurst, has understood that her business is part of an ecosystem. The community supports her business; her business supports the community; and, like any ecosystem, the strength of one depends on the strength of all.
In 2020, the ecosystem was put to the test. Elmhurst, like every community, has faced the economic impact and human devastation of the pandemic. But Elmhurst has proven to be resilient, thanks to the creativity of local leaders and the powerful bond between residents and local businesses. Now, the community is showing signs of growth and healing.
Today, we’re taking a look at Elmhurst through the eyes of Kate, a local business leader, to see how her boutique has emerged from a tough year stronger than ever—and how she’s giving back.
While sales were slow at the beginning of the pandemic, Kate’s boutique—which offers clothing, health products and more—pivoted quickly, and that made all the difference. Within the first weeks of the shutdown, Kie&Kate began offering a new product, weekly ‘Friday Feel Good’ packages filled with items hand-picked from the store. It was the first of many innovations to come.
As Kate says, “People went crazy for them.”
In addition to new marketing initiatives, like Feel Good Fridays, Kie&Kate launched a new online ecommerce platform. At a time when Amazon was only shipping essentials and big-box retailers like Nordstrom were 3-4 weeks delayed, Kie&Kate’s new platform enabled them to offer curbside pickup, delivery and shipping within 48 hours or less. Meanwhile, the boutique added new products to their inventory that appealed to customers in 2020: work-from-home clothing, loungewear, spa-at-home products and masks.
Even before the pandemic, Kate says that her boutique had a loyal customer base. But, by doubling down her efforts on social media, she was able to engage that base like never before and grow it.
“I was personally forced to step outside my comfort zone and get in front of my customers on social media,” says Kate, who found that providing helpful content to her customer base ultimately drove sales and built loyalty. “Offering stories, advice, recipes and virtual shopping hours turned out to be helpful and warmly received.”
The quick-thinking and hard work paid off, and Kie&Kate is having their biggest year yet. Sales are up, and—thanks to their online platform and social media content—Kate says that sales during Mother’s Day week were as high as they usually are at the height of the holiday season.
Kie&Kate was far from the only Elmhurst business to pivot during COVID-19. Numerous local shops created ecommerce options and expanded their social media presence. Local restaurants altered their menus and offered new ways for their customers to safely get their food, like walk-up service windows, delivery services and interesting at-home options. (For example, one local business offered an at-home crepe kit that proved to be a hit.)
And while these businesses were forced to pivot and think creatively, Kate says that they couldn’t have been successful without the support of the surrounding community.
“The entire town rallied around my business during COVID,” she says. Local residents showed their support by placing orders, sharing posts on social media, and tuning into Kie&Kate’s weekly Instagram Live stream.
Local businesses, organizations and officials lent a hand. For example, the District 205 Foundation partnered with various small-business owners—with Jennifer Blanchette from Maxine’s Boutique taking point—to organize a Boutique Crawl, a fundraiser that brought the community together.
“The City of Elmhurst was also very supportive of our business and continues to be helpful and responsive,” Kate says. “Erin Jason (the Business-Development Coordinator for the City of Elmhurst) called me at the beginning of the shutdown to offer advice, support, and give me a lay of the land. I was very clear on what we were allowed to do, and that made it easier to bring in additional staff to help with my business.”
The City of Elmhurst has supported local businesses throughout the pandemic—often in surprising ways. For example, the City has allowed restaurants to expand outdoor dining on public and private property, established dedicated curbside pick-up locations, and expanded the liquor licenses of some businesses to accommodate for outdoor seating. City officials have also allowed City-owned property to be used for outdoor fitness classes and have worked with individual businesses to find new opportunities.
And while the community has rallied to support local businesses like Kie&Kate, these businesses have, in turn, given back to the community. Several restaurants have fed frontline workers; banks have helped hundreds of Elmhurst businesses secure CAREs Act Funding; and, when possible, numerous business owners have donated to recovery efforts.
Throughout the pandemic, Kate’s boutique has found creative ways to support teachers, nurses and other frontline workers. A few examples: They donated $1,000 to the Elmhurst District 205 COVID Relief Fund, contributed $350 to the Chicago COVID Response Fund, have given countless yards worth of fabric to people and organizations making masks, and have even created custom care packages.
“I love supporting the community through my business,” Kate says. “There are so many incredible organizations, foundations, causes, fundraisers and clubs in Elmhurst. We live in an active, vibrant town with many talented, professional and creative people.
“I love coming together to impact our community in positive ways.”
While the pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn have hit every community hard, Elmhurst seems to be on its way toward a better future. Drive through Elmhurst today, and you’ll see signs of progress: new industrial building popping up, residential projects preparing to welcome new tenants in 2021, “Coming Soon” signs in windows along the downtown main street and throughout the community.
No words can do justice to the challenges our towns and families have faced this year. But communities like Elmhurst show that creative people working together can make it through the most difficult times—and even come out stronger on the other side.
Elmhurst is a community in DuPage County, Illinois. Like Elmhurst, communities across DuPage have rallied to support local businesses, protect the health of residents and visitors, and even use science to fight back against COVID-19.
Learn more at ChooseDuPage.com/Ready