Skip to main content

Former police dispatcher turned boutique owner

Brittany Smith reflects on Grace Mae Design and Boutique's second year in business

share arrow printer bookmark flag

June 14, 2023

DE PERE – Brittany Smith, business entrepreneur and owner of Grace Mae Design and Boutique located at 377 Main St. in De Pere, said she no longer has to hear “Mom, when are you coming home?” from her daughters.

Every day can be, “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” for this De Pere business owner and mother of Harper Grace, 5, and Isla Mae, 3 soon to be 4.

Smith said not only were her girls the inspiration for the name of her store – Grace Mae – they were also a large part of her decision to shift from a career as a police dispatcher to a business entrepreneur.

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay graduate said before making the change, her 12-hour shifts as a 911 dispatcher didn’t leave time for much else.

“The 12-hour night shifts and then coming home to try to get some sleep and hang out with the girls for a little bit (was getting to be overwhelming),” she said.
Making the change
So, why does somebody segue from a career in police dispatching with the Oneida Police Department into owning a boutique?

The answer – why not?

Smith said she has always had a creative side.

“I was doing my craft shows and events on my personal time and loved doing that,” she said. That’s also where Smith said she networked with other women who have ultimately become her suppliers.

Over the years, she said she hosted house parties where she brought materials and taught attendees how to stencil or hand-letter messages onto wood and make jewelry or various other crafts.

“I think my mom’s coworker had originally mentioned the idea about business ownership,” she said. “I began researching the opportunity and finally said ‘I’m going to do it.’”

Smith, a member of the Oneida Nation, said she also learned about Bay Bank’s business loan service and was inspired to overcome any appreciation and “kickstart my entrepreneurial journey with their support.”

Grace Mae Design and Boutique opened in July 2021.

“It was very surreal,” she said. “I still don’t think I (fully) realize it’s a thing. I get to bring my daughters to work with me and still get to be with them. They get to learn the ins and outs of hard work.”

The boutique’s focus
All products sold at Grace Mae Design and Boutique, Smith said, are made by women – many of which are local to Northeast Wisconsin or throughout the state.

“I make a lot of the items myself as well,” she said.

Smith said those products not made locally, are made in the U.S. by women wholesalers.

She said the mission is larger than the four walls of the boutique’s 450 square feet.

“I love women empowerment,” she said. “There is a different camaraderie among women in business. We treat each other differently. Sometimes you have to fight a little harder. At the end of the day, I just want to support women.”
Business growth
As Grace Mae Design and Boutique approaches its two-year anniversary, Smith said it’s been a rollercoaster ride.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was tough on us,” she said. “I asked myself many times, ‘What am I doing?’ Winters get slow after the holidays.”

The store initially opened at 327 Main Ave. in De Pere, before moving to the 377 Main Ave. location shortly after.

“One day I was driving home (from our first location in De Pere) and saw this store on my right side open with space available on the corner and thought, ‘this would be perfect with so much more visibility,’” Smith said. 

Though the new space is actually smaller than the original store location, she said “it’s perfect for my space and for my vision.”

“Everything fits so well,” Smith said. “Before I found just a shop, and now I feel like this is truly my shop. I finally found my home base.”

Fitting right in
Most of the boutique’s business, Smith said, is foot traffic, with much of her custom work announcements happening on Facebook.

Grace Mae Design and Boutique is located across the street from Stella’s on Main Street and is linked by an interior hallway with Fuel Good Nutrition, also on Main Street.

“I still get so many people who say I didn’t even know you were here,” she said.

Smith said the camaraderie among the DePere business owners is alive and well and supportive.

“The owners of Fuel Good Nutrition along with Sweet Willow Herbals & Café are among the neighborhood businesses that have been welcoming and supportive,” she said. “If I have to call someone (for help), they are there, and they send business my way. It feels so good that I have a community.”

Smith said there is a sense of mentorship on the part of the store’s neighbors, too.

“The best advice neighborhood business owners have imparted is, ‘Don’t be afraid to fail. You learn from your failures. It’s okay to have a bad day and a bad month. It’s not the end of your business. You have to keep going and learn from everything you’re doing. Every day is brand new,’” she said. “I had no idea what I was doing. It’s very emotional, but it’s important to keep going.”

Smith said she realizes a business does not necessarily prosper overnight.

“The growth is still slower than I anticipated,” she said. “It takes a while for business momentum to happen. I think that was a hard thing for me to grasp in the beginning.”

But, Smith said there are many bright spots and special stories.

// Smith, owner of Grace Mae Design and Boutique, said the store features women’s clothing, accessories, wooden signs, decor items, soy candles, succulents and more. Submitted Photo

“I have a lot of regular clients,” she said. “I have one lady who purchased clothing from my shop and got married in those garments at an Airbnb.”
Product offerings
Smith said the store – with its roughly 15-foot ceilings and vintage feel – features women’s clothing and accessories, as well as wooden signs, decor items, soy candles and succulents along with items bearing messages, such as kids’ hoodies printed with “Outdoorable” and mugs reading “Coffee now, wine later.”

Smith – who created all the store’s signage – said she also repurposes vintage plates with snarky messages.  
Long-term dream
Smith said reflecting on her first two years in business and looking to the next, “I want my business to flourish.”

“Even if I grow into this amazing entrepreneur businesswoman, I still want to stay in this shop,” she said. “I feel comfortable here… I would love to just be happy – I know, it sounds so cheesy.”

Smith said when she walks down Main Street in De Pere and sees Grace Mae Design and Boutique, she often finds herself saying, “Wow, that’s mine.”

She said she looks forward to continuing to provide a venue for women to grow.

“I like I can put other women’s products in my store – giving them the opportunity to get their business going,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t know how to start or how to sell yourself.”

Smith said she hopes to extend the store’s support of women entrepreneurs outside of the country as well.

“I hope to travel to South Africa to support other women in other countries,” she said. “I want to find those one-of-a-kind (items) while supporting women internationally.”

To learn more about Grace Mae Design and Boutique, visit the store’s Facebook page.

share arrow printer bookmark flag

Trending View All Trending