From the time she was a child in Medicine Lodge, Kan., Jane Stern has found treasure in other people’s junk.
Inspired by that treasure, Stern has spent a lifetime making artwork from repurposed items unwanted and discarded by others.
“As a kid, I knew I was in for an adventure when I realized I’d rather root through trash cans in our alley in Medicine Lodge than play with other stuff,” said Stern, founder of Olathe’s Junque Drawer Boutique and Junque 101.
Since her discovery about the true potential of junk, Stern has been committed to making art from found objects. She imagines and then creates eclectic works from a seemingly infinite array of items. Her jewelry, décor and wall art are sourced from typewriter keys, charms, car license tags, eyeglass lenses, watch parts, feathers, empty wine bottles, tool boxes, suitcases and many other objects often tossed.
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Though she enjoyed many years working as a teacher and school counselor, a dream to exclusively make art and share it with others never faded. In 2007, the artist and entrepreneur closed the chapter on her 35-year education career to follow her dreams and opened Junque Drawer Boutique.
This initial creative business venture was a weekend-only boutique located in a converted boat house in Olathe.
As Stern’s business increased over the next few years, and demand for her art grew, she also added the arts and crafts of other vendors.
In 2014, Stern’s daughter, Hannah Greer, joined her as a business partner. Together, the mother-daughter team took a significant entrepreneurial leap and purchased a historic three-story home at 233 S. Cherry St. in downtown Olathe. After a renovation, they launched Junque Drawer Boutique’s current location.
Boutique shoppers can find Stern’s artwork, jewelry, candles and soaps, clothing, handbags, kitchen, bar and garden items, books, baby clothing and more.
“You never know what you are going to find here,” said Kathlene Bell of Olathe. “I keep going back to each room, wondering if I missed something.”
Between 2014 and 2018, Junque Drawer business grew, and Stern and Greer spotted new opportunities to expand.
In 2018, they purchased a second home across the street from the Boutique and opened Junque 101, a complementary venue to the boutique. Mother and daughter transformed a 131-year old modern craftsman space into an Airbnb, as well as venue for retreats, art-adventure weekends, reunions, celebrations and business gatherings.
An expansive art studio and classroom are located in the basement. Classes include painting, collage, embroidery, jewelry making, wood art, cookie making and more. Stern teaches 60 percent of the classes; the remainder are taught by outside instructors.
When Greer joined her mother five years ago, she began managing their day-to-day business operations.
“My mom wants to spend her time creating, and I want to help her do that,” Greer said. “For her, the business side is not as fun. She’s just ready to create, and I’m excited for her to be able to do that.”
In addition to financial responsibilities, such as payroll and taxes, Greer oversees marketing, special events and social media for both locations.
In building the business ventures, the two have faced formidable challenges.
Among those, finance is at the top.
“The commitment hasn’t always been easy,” Stern said. “And, the journey of entrepreneur boutique owner has not always been a rose-filled path.
“Before becoming a shop owner, I got a steady paycheck as a school counselor. Financially, entrepreneurship was hard, with a lot of unknowns. I understand why so many small businesses go out of business.”
Thriving amid a world of big-box stores and online shopping has proven difficult for these small-business owners.
“Competition from established giant retailers like Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, Target and Amazon really affects our business,” Stern said. “We try to keep our prices reasonable, but not being able to buy in bulk is a big issue.”
In her role, Greer finds keeping up with the latest product and social media trends to be some of her biggest hurdles.
“There’s also time away from family,” Greer added. “If we didn’t love it so much, it might not be as fun.”
For both mother and daughter, loving what they do — and their connection with customers — is the reward for the day-to-day hard work and uncertainty.
“It’s all about the one-on-one connection with shoppers, the conversation and the celebration,” Stern said. “And I love working with my daughter.”