Life is Short, Dream Big

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This is another article from Susan Odum's BUY LOCAL series.  Susan is a Community & Economic Development Educator with U of I Extension

"There are a lot of words one might use to describe Julie Kuppart, including energetic, adaptable, and passionate, but after spending an afternoon with her, I think inspirational sums her up best." – Susan Odum, Extension Educator, University of Illinois Extension

Dreams Demand Hustle is not just a quote on a t-shirt by Natalie Chang hanging on a rack at her gift shop/café in Harrisburg; it is a way of life for Julie. The work ethic inspired by her parents guided her as she took a leap of faith, leaving the corporate world to pursue her dream of opening her own business. Julie could have pursued her dream anywhere, but she chose to "Dream Big" right here in rural Southern Illinois. This pursuit evolved into Dream Baskets - part café, part specialty gift shop, part catering business, and all passion.

Julie's sister Jamie joined Dream Baskets upon graduation bringing additional creativity, organizational skills, sales skills, baking, and lots of personality to the business. According to Julie, "partnering with my sister and best friend makes working each day much more fun. All three of her children have grown up in the store and are the best cookie tasters around."

The café, located at 908 South Commercial in Harrisburg, offers healthy options including sandwiches, wraps, salads, and a daily lunch special. The homemade chocolate chip cookies made fresh daily using her grandmother's recipe are a local favorite. The gift shop is a go-to place to buy a specialty gift; you know they will love it – because Julie has impeccable taste. From locally made jewelry by Simply Southern Stacks to party cups and napkins designed by Harrisburg native, Natalie Chang, to an assortment of candles, teas, soaps, lotions, and housewares, it is easy to find the perfect gift for that special someone. And the staff will happily wrap it for you.

Mornings start early and nights end late and when everyone else is looking forward to the weekend – that is when Julie really gets busy, as she transforms from gift shop/café owner to caterer/party planner. Whether she is hosting a tea party, a book signing, a baby shower, a wedding reception, a Daddy-Daughter Valentine's Dinner, or a gingerbread house decorating fundraiser, Julie pays attention to every detail to ensure her guests can focus on having a great time. While you and I are busy getting ready for Christmas, as the go-to place for business gift giving, Julie and the staff are busy wrapping gifts for the local businesses who entrust her with their gift giving.

Not only is Julie a master at switching gears, she recognizes the importance of constantly reinventing her business. She is continually tweaking the café menu and when we are busy thinking about "back to school", Julie is busy selecting the inventory she will carry during the Christmas season.

For Julie, the key is to love what you do. Dream Baskets is her passion and it shows. Aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs could learn a lot by spending an afternoon with Julie. She is 100% fully invested in what she is doing, she makes it easy for customers to shop with her, and ensures they leave happy. She knows her customers and their habits, which became evident when she interrupted our interview and said "excuse me for just a minute; they come in every Wednesday afternoon for a cookie."

Julie is also a master at engaging with her customers on social media. Facebook provides Julie with a cost effective way to stay connected with her customers. While it allows her to schedule and target her messages, it also offers spontaneity as she can post a picture of strawberry cupcakes that will be long gone by noon.

When Julie started her business, she knew there would be obstacles, setbacks, peaks, and valleys. For Julie, the major setback came on February 29, 2012, when an F-4 tornado took out the north wall and all the windows, left all the fixtures damaged, and her inventory lost. During the weeks when they were recreating a business that was literally torn apart, she utilized social media to keep her customers updated on their progress in preparation for the reopening celebration.

Being community minded and giving back just comes naturally to Julie. As a small business owner, Julie understands the more you give, the more you get in return. She demonstrates this through her commitment to the community, whether she is teaming up with a local school or organization on a fundraising project, speaking to the Saline County CEO class, or sharing her knowledge of social media marketing with other small business owners.

Julie could have taken her "Big Dreams" anywhere and been successful, instead, she is committed to building a better tomorrow for Southern Illinois.

Source: Susan Odum, Extension Educator, Community Economic Development, University of Illinois Extension