Cass County Democrat Missourian

Small-business owners in LS, Cass enjoy making connections

During a recent visit to Golden Classics Jewelers in Harrisonville, Phyllis Miller discussed her jewelry repair with store owners, Tim and Karen Soulis. One of dozens of Golden Classics loyal customers, Miller has done business with the Tim and Karen since 1981.
During a recent visit to Golden Classics Jewelers in Harrisonville, Phyllis Miller discussed her jewelry repair with store owners, Tim and Karen Soulis. One of dozens of Golden Classics loyal customers, Miller has done business with the Tim and Karen since 1981. Courtesy photo

For small-business owners in Lee’s Summit and Cass County, making connections and building relationships is always “business as usual.”

These features distinguish the unique contributions of small businesses to the communities and local economies they serve.

“Small businesses are the heart of a community,” said Sherry Shackles, owner of The Living Stone gift shop in downtown Lee’s Summit. “I feel that supporting them supports the values of that community.”

For the past several years, a wave of local and national initiatives have focused on the benefits of shopping local. This year’s holiday shopping season will be no exception.

Beginning this week, small businesses in Cass County and Lee’s Summit will be in the spotlight of “shop local” initiatives. Among these is the popular American Express program, Small Business Saturday, held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Launched in 2010, Small Business Saturday is a counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday which focus on big-box retail and e-commerce outlets. In contrast, Small Business Saturday brings attention to small business owners and encourages holiday shoppers to patronize local businesses.

“Small businesses have many advantages over large businesses,” Shackles said. “First and foremost is the customer service aspect and our personal attention to their needs, which large corporations have no time for.”

Shackles, who opened her gift shop in 2001, is celebrating nearly two decades as a small-business owner.

“There have been many ups and downs in the past 17 years,” she said. “But, I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything.”

Many small-business owners agree that the entrepreneurial life can be challenging, but it is still the work and journey they would choose today.

Since opening Harrisonville’s Golden Classics Jewelers in 1981, Tim and Karen Soulis have experienced their share of ups and downs. But they remain focused on serving their community.

“Running a small business is exhilarating, exciting and exhausting,” said Tim Soulis. “We work on our days off. We solve problems at breakfast and strategize during dinner. We breathe business.”

For Karen Soulis, service is the key to nearly four decades of success in the jewelry business — a business that is often exceptionally competitive.

“Our personal service is the thing we do that is most important,” she said. “Our customers appreciate it more than anything else we offer. They feel they matter.”

Amy Robertson, owner of Cameron’s Home Furnishings in downtown Lee’s Summit, also focuses on creating individual shopping experiences for her customers.

“When you shop a small business, you’re shopping with the owners and people that live in your community, and it becomes much more personal and fun,” she said. “Our customers are not just a name and number to us. They’re our friends from church and school, or our next-door neighbors.”

Since opening in 2003, personalized service has also been the heart of business for the owners of Belton’s Life Thyme Botanicals. Started and operated by the Bichel family, the shop specializes in health and wellness products, bulk herbs and spices, premium teas, and hand-crafted items from local artists.

“In a world where the majority of human contact seems to be through social media, it’s vital for people to have the opportunity to speak to an actual human,” said Emily Bichel, certified herbalist and store manager.

Bichel and her family also recognize how Life Thyme Botanicals, like many other small businesses, bolsters the local economy and circles profits back to the community.

“Small businesses have the great advantage of keeping money in the community,” she said. “When you cast your dollar vote for a small business, it goes into the pockets of the people who actually had the opportunity to serve you, which provides a form of accountability for the quality of service you receive.”

The Soulises also acknowledge a contribution their business has made to the economy of greater Harrisonville.

“We offer expertise and integrity, but we also bring jobs and tax dollars to the community,” Tim Soulis said.

Small Business Saturday has helped keep small business in the public’s mind, Bichel adds.

“I think it’s a great reminder to people to support small business, not just on Small Business Saturday, but every day of the year.”

Robertson says the day is one of “our biggest cash register ringing days of the year. We embrace it and make it fun for our customers.”

Shackles, fellow Lee’s Summit business owner, has experienced the same positive result at The Living Stone.

“Small Business Saturday has become one of my favorite events,” she said. “It’s been on this day that so many people have come downtown and discovered my business and shown so much support for this community.”