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A business born of passion
By Lori Harlan

The birth of J. Parkes Originals can be summarized in numbers: 1,700 earrings and $2,000 more than 20 years ago.

That's when Jan Parkes quit her job to devote herself to art. With only $2,000 to fund the endeavor, she spent a month making 1,700 earrings to sell at a kiosk at White Oaks Mall.

Confident she could turn a profit during the busy holiday season, Parkes hoped the rent would be no more than $1,000 per month. Instead, it was $1,000 a week.

Parkes manned the kiosk by herself, worked all the hours she could and let her customers know where to find her after the holiday season ended.

"That's where it all began 23 years ago. It's hard to believe I started with only $2,000, but I made it work," Parkes said. "I was headstrong and determined, and I put all the money I made back into the business."

That business was first a small store located off of Jefferson Street. But with everyone around her talking about the importance of location, Parkes eventually moved the store to MacArthur Boulevard.

Tucked along a tree-lined stretch of MacArthur between Laurel and South Grand, J. Parkes' merchandise fills five rooms on the first floor of a converted house.

Jewelry is the most popular item sold at J. Parkes, but other items include home décor, purses, sunglasses, candle holders, greeting cards and key chains. Most items are unique, handmade pieces - a source of pride for Parkes.

"I am not a beige kind of person, and I want the store to reflect that. I love color and have a very eclectic style," Parkes said. "I don't want to compete with other Springfield retailers. It's important to me that our merchandise is different and unique."

The displays are almost as interesting as their contents. Parkes builds them herself, often reusing and repurposing things such as closet doors and old books for visual interest.

"The best way for me to communicate what I see and feel is with my hands. I love to make new things from old," she explained.

Parkes comes from a family of artists and found early inspiration from her grandmother, an oil painter. It continues to be a family affair - both her sister and uncle work with her now. She said opening the store was "a leap of faith, but something I always wanted to do."

She is quick to credit loyal customers for her two decades of success. The key to earning repeat customers - and the word-of-mouth advertising crucial to small business - is treating customers like guests, regardless of whether they make a purchase during their visit.

As for her employees, "No one works for me. They work with me. I couldn't do any of this without my team. I work seven days a week, but it's not work. It's not a job. It's a passion," Parkes said. n


Story published Friday, November 5, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 6 )

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