When Trove Design Shop owner Karen Gathany looks for what products to put in her store, she has a checklist. Is the item handmade? Is it sustainably produced? Is it reasonably priced? Beautiful and practical? Would she give it as a gift to a friend or have it in her own home? Only the products that make it through Karen’s extensive checklist make it inside the four walls of her hip 830-square-foot space in Woodlawn.
“There is a long list that determines if something is offered here,” Karen says. “There is something for everyone, but it has to fit the aesthetic of what we carry in the store and be well-crafted and beautifully designed.”
Trove opened in mid-June and sells everything from home decor to jewelry, books, art, greeting cards and candles. This art- and design-focused gift and home goods shop reflects Karen’s love of goods that aren’t mass-produced, such as books — Karen calls herself a “book nerd” — and affordable art that is attainable for all, including college students and young professionals. Trove combats the misconception that beautiful decor must be pricey — the average price of an item at Trove is $30, with prices on items ranging from as low as $5 to only around $150. “There is an expectation that handmade equals expensive,” Karen explains. “We want to prove that you can buy handmade for a reasonable price.”
Before opening Trove, Karen worked in print design and advertising for 10 years. During a period of her life that she calls a “self-discovery and self-exploration phase,” she questioned whether graphic design was the career she wanted to carry into the rest of her life. She considered going to graduate school but was inspired by travels to places like San Francisco, New York City, New Orleans, Atlanta and Nashville, where she found interesting boutiques that lit a fire inside of her. Many of the boutiques were part of the micro-retail movement — locations with minimal square footage and an intimate feel. Soon, she began talking to her friends about opening a shop of her own. “I talked to my friends about how cool it would be if I had a shop,” she tells us. “And they said ‘Karen, that sounds right up your alley. You could totally do that.’”
Her vision was to bring an eclectic mix of handmade gifts — much like those she’d seen on her travels — back to Birmingham. Though originally from Huntsville, Karen has lived in the Magic City for 11 years and considers it home now. “I knew Birmingham needed a place that sold creative gifts and that supported makers,” she says.
Karen, a maker herself, made it her mission that money spent at Trove would go directly back to the artists that made the goods sold at the shop. “Everything I do, other than books and antiques, benefits the maker and goes back into the pockets of other small business owners,” she explains.
Many of the products Karen sells are from local makers, but some are from pieces she was inspired by during her travels around the United States. There is also art from a maker in London, and jewelry from both London and Argentina. But the majority of the pieces are made all across the United States; Karen organically found them on Instagram. “We have makers represented here who aren’t represented anywhere else in the state or even in the Southeast,” Karen tells us. “You’ll find things here that aren’t available anywhere else. There’s very little overlap with other stores, and that’s intentional.”
When Karen decided that she wanted to open her own shop, she joined Create Birmingham’s CO.STARTERS, a nine-week business boot camp that helps aspiring entrepreneurs like her turn their ideas into action. This allowed her to gain valuable knowledge about starting her own business, she says. “I had no background in business, so it was a good thing to do,” Karen admits. “I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur.”
Soon after completing the program, she opened up a pop-up shop at Railroad Park for six weekends in late 2018. The response was positive, and her customers began asking her where her actual brick and mortar store was. “There was enough of a positive response that I wanted to take the next step,” says. “At the beginning of 2019, I knew I wanted to go fully into a brick and mortar space. The feel of the space was very important. Trove has high ceilings, exposed brick, big windows and a reclaimed wooden floor. It has character; I knew I needed that in my space. As visual of a store as Trove is, we couldn’t be in a basic white box.”
She was open to locations downtown or in Homewood, but through a friend, she found a landlord who had a space in Woodlawn. Karen, a fan of the Woodlawn Cycle Café and Club Duquette and familiar with the area, fell in love with the space the landlord showed her at 5532 First Avenue North.
Since its opening on June 22, Trove has been committed to not just selling goods but also becoming a community gathering space and a shop known for its outspoken support of the arts. Karen often hosts pop-up shops inside Trove for artists, where local makers can display their work free of charge. So far, she has hosted a different pop-up shop every Saturday for the past three months, ranging in scope from embroidery to stained glass, jewelry and artwork. “Supporting the arts is a huge part of what we want to do,” she says. “I have a huge heart for supporting artists, and it’s really important to me that we support creative passions.”
Karen offers creative workshops in drawing, watercolor painting, hand lettering and art therapy for the public. The shop is also available to rent as an event space, and, in addition to pop-up shops, Trove can host bridal lunches, bachelorette parties and, in one instance, even hosted a concert. “We want to be more than just a store,” she offers. “We want to be a community gathering space.”
Nearly six months in, Karen can still remember when she had to drive to Atlanta to experience a boutique like the shop she now owns. “It is exciting to bring something to Birmingham that’s different than what the city already had,” she says. “We are doing so well, and we hope to take in more vendors and stock more variety. But I’m really enjoying where we are now.”
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