The only consistency in life is change. As a Gemini, I happen to love change.
If you were following us back in 2018, I told you we were “building something good.” Five years later, that is still very much our mission! What you may not know however is that we’ve been at this a lot longer than that.
In 1999, I was in design school in Tucson when I realized my passion for antiques. I’d always sort of taken them for granted because they’d always been a part of my life. My parents had antiques, my grandparents had antiques and both homes had been an eclectic mix of old and new.
Rob and I inherited a gorgeous art deco-era sofa and matching chair that we’d reupholstered in a dreamy navy-blue real velvet. It was the crown jewel of our little Spanish-style home in Tucson and to modernize it, I mixed it with coffee and end tables from Target and put new, contemporary chairs around the round oak table that had been my Grannie’s. In retrospect, I guess that’s where my “old & new” style was born.
During the week, I dedicated the majority of my time to school. We hand-drafted everything back then, often in ink on vellum, and not being a super precise person, it was a real struggle for me. I could freehand draw as well as anyone in my class, due to my time in commercial art school years before, but it was – and remains – a challenge for me. What came easy to the Russian girl in my Rendering class (she could draw reflections in the glass of windows or mirrors!) was completely soul-draining for me. Probably, because I also had a 3-year-old and a husband that was playing out in metal bands at night. They were hard times indeed but the one thing that got me through was vintage hunting on the weekends.
I quickly became obsessed with finding treasures! Not having a paying job, I really can’t say how I afforded to fill the guest room with antique furniture and vintage goods but somehow, I did. And, of course, the next logical step was to imagine my own shop. I loved interior design, and if you’ve seen our design book collection, you know that I still DO! But all I could ever picture myself doing for the rest of my life was having a shop. A beautiful home store blending my newly patented style with my art & design education was all I could focus on.
Reminder: we had NO money. What we did have was a cute little house that we’d made some important changes to. Mainly, we’d turned it from a 2 bed-2 bath into a 3-bedroom house by enclosing a big archway with big, castle-like doors that the talented Robin built from scratch. We put a “For Sale by Owner” sign out in the yard and within 2 weeks, had a full price contract which the buyer said was, “100% due to the interior design of the home.” All these years later, that’s still something I’m proud of.
After coming up empty on a commercial real estate hunt in Tucson, we decided to move back to my hometown of Silver City where we found an old appliance storefront for $700/month. There was nothing like what I wanted to do there, and my heart opened wide about the notion of being on the same street my parents’ Hallmark store had been on. Our space was even two doors down from a dress shop I had worked at in high school! It felt like kismet, so we took our proceeds from the house, hit the California flea markets, adding to the stuff I’d collected, and Rejuvenation: Eclectic Home Decor was born.
It's important to note that from day one, I couldn’t have even opened the door without Rob’s help. He refinished & repaired the furniture, he restored the shop space, he hung pictures and signage and lugged things around with unbelievable ease. In the beginning, it was always “Cara’s shop” but in reality, it was always ours. Robin worked some pretty miserable jobs so that I could realize my dream while simultaneously making it all logistically possible!
We did well in Silver City. We took dozens of buying trips and sold thousands of really amazing antique & vintage pieces. Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night, I lie awake thinking about those 1960’s Chinese silk armchairs or that Eastlake marble-topped dresser that sold in about 5 minutes after staging it in the front window. Our lives have been touched by so much beauty!
Alas…we got distracted. Because there’s not a lot to do in a small town, we had customers that just hung around all day, so we started selling them coffee. Quickly, we more than doubled our square footage, Rob renovated ANOTHER downtown Silver City space (for which he won an award from the State), and I was baking blueberry muffins at 5am as people sat in our fabulous window displays with their lattes. We knew we had to change to accommodate the needs of the community, so we became half great vintage/home shop and half full-blown coffeehouse. It was exhausting!
When we made the decision to sell Rejuvenation it was two-fold. One, the coffeehouse had completely taken over and we’d lost our passion for what we do and two, we had an enormously bright and talented 10-year-old that needed more than our sleepy little town could provide. We flipped another two houses and moved to Santa Fe to satisfy the latter.
I don’t want a pat on the back here because I know it didn’t have to be this way, but I put my dreams on hold for the betterment of Ellie’s future. It was not a sacrifice; it was a CHOICE. I wanted to be the kind of parent that provided every possible opportunity for my child to succeed. And I wanted to be WITH HER as much as possible (not much has changed on that front).
Make no mistake however, the following 10 years without a business of my own were some of the darkest days of my life. I was lost without my passion. I schlepped at over a dozen dead-end jobs, I volunteered as much as possible at Ellie’s schools and otherwise, I spent 100% of my “free” time creating a beautiful home and honing my craft doing design consultations. But I was LOST!
If you’ve read my blog in the past, you know the rest. When we finally got Ellie off to college, we decided to give small biz another go and gratefully, were gifted the money to do so from my then-96-year-old grandfather. And Ampersand was born.
Once again, my vision was for a beautiful home store mixing vintage and new. And right from the start, it was realized and well-received. Maybe not well-received ENOUGH for Santa Fe’s sky-high commercial rental rates but day after day, we heard rave reviews about our “great eye” and “unique style.” We knew we had something special, but it came at a high price. And our unexpected challenge was competing with the age-old “Santa Fe style.” We catered to a demographic that doesn’t exist in Santa Fe. So instead of folding, we moved to a higher-traffic, lower-rent, funkier location that just happened to be an hour + away.
Everything from then on was incidental. We never set out to do business or even to live in Taos. We certainly never set out to be in a tourist location; we simply rented the only commercial space available and then went with the flow. Of course, that flow was quickly interrupted by a worldwide Pandemic but that’s another story. Point is, while business is good in Taos, we’ve ended up with a different kind of shop than we wanted.
It personally hit me hard one day when we sold about our 200th container of Humble Deodorant. We didn’t go through this 20-year journey to sell deodorant! It’s a great product and we love carrying locally-produced goods but how much further could a “beautiful home store” be from one that sells one $12 deodorant to 40 different tourists a day?
By this part of the story, I probably don’t have to tell you why we’re moving the store again, but I feel compelled to do so! This move is deliberate. We have worked really hard to find a gap in a larger market that our dream store could fill, and we’ve found that in Tucson. We also LOVE the weather there! Two-thirds of the year, it’s GLORIOUS! Summer will be hot and quiet, yes. But as we’ve gotten older, our tolerance for cold, snow and mud have decreased ten-fold. It’s also closer to “home.” Did you know it’s only 2.5 hours from Silver City (where Dad still lives) and only 5 short hours to Ellie in San Diego? We also have a ton of family – which it would be nice to see – in Phoenix.
And can you imagine how much easier vintage sourcing will be? Arizona has long been a retirement destination which means our weekends will be full of estate sales of GOOD OLD STUFF! And guess what?? Our new location is smack dab in the middle of the city’s most affluent historic district. THIRTY THOUSAND historic homes will be within a 5-mile walkable radius of our shop and 90,000 people actively work in the area! That’s a far-cry from the 5k people that reside in Taos year-round, right?
So, here’s the new dream – which is really a re-manipulation of the OG dream: a beautiful home store that’s focused on old and new furnishings & out-of-the-box-store home goods. Of course, we’ll still work hard to fulfill our motto: Create A Beautiful Home; Give a Creative Gift. We’ll have cards, gifts, apothecary, candles, jewelry, an expanded super cute apparel section, all in a drop-dead gorgeous showroom-slash-representation of how amazing your house can look if you shop at Ampersand! Our new space has exposed brick walls, a vaulted industrial truss ceiling, concrete floors, and a BOOMING restaurant and gourmet food shop next door.
This change is bittersweet, for sure. We’ve made some great friends in Taos and have been lucky to experience a community of fellow merchants that respect and support each other. We’ve also grown in SO MANY WAYS and for that, we’re eternally grateful. But we’re also ready. Ready to finally realize our dream of helping people design their homes to be cozy, find treasures that will become heirlooms, and bring the irreplaceable neighborhood shop to a new market that really needs it.