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Dreams travel full circle for downtown retailer
Joely Leeper Beck didn't necessarily create her Dream Gift Shop for Yuma visitors, but it was quite a journey that landed the Yuma native in the new retail storefront at 250 S. Madison Ave. in the Historic North End.
A Yuma High grad (Class of 1987), Beck spent 20 years living and working in San Diego. She worked in the hospitality industry while earning a degree in interior design and working on residential projects.
In 2004, the single mom launched an online business specializing in “all things luxurious and unique for those you love” at DreamALittleDreamWithMe.com. Anchored by an inclusive collection of items from the Little Giraffe and Barefoot Dreams brands, the website attracted a large and loyal following, including some notable celebrities like San Diego-born Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy (who loves to gift fellow breast cancer patients with the site's luxury throws).
Then, on a trip back to Yuma to visit her dad, Beck ran into “someone I knew way back when.” One thing led to another, and soon Beck was married and moving back to Yuma, where her blended family now includes husband Gabe, their daughter Riely, her sons Kael and Kaden, and Gabe's sons Joab and Jacob.
“Moving the online business was pretty seamless,” Beck said. “I just got warehouse space here, and the customers followed without even noticing. Plus, because of my ties to Yuma, I already had a lot of customers here anyway.”
It was partly to give those Yuma customers a “showroom” where they could see – and touch – her soft and cozy merchandise that Beck opened her first physical store, on a semi-industrial stretch of East 24th Street.
“We were definitely a ‘destination business' in that location,” Beck laughed. “You had to know we were there.”
Still, there were shoppers enough, until the lagging economy forced a change of scenery.
“I decided that if I was going to continue with a physical store, I needed to broaden the merchandise and make the shop more accessible,” Beck explained. “Twigs' closing was what brought me downtown, and then I heard from a friend (Christina Gwynn Perricone) that the space where the Potting Shed had been was available.”
She jumped on the location, then started looking for gift items that were “one of a kind, but hitting all price points,” with stores like Pottery Barn and Anthropologie serving as inspiration.
“It's a little bit vintage, a little bit rustic, but with all the baby items that are still the core of the online store,” Beck said. “We decided to name it ‘Dream Gift Shop' to rebrand the store as ‘not just for babies' – and I have so much room that I hope to fill it with twice as many goodies without getting overcluttered.”
Since the new store opened in the dead of a Yuma summer – July 2012 – Beck admits that things were a little slow to start, “but all our regular customers found us.” And with the opening of the Garden Cafe in October next door, she noted that foot traffic has tripled.
“It's combination of new merchandise and new people,” Beck said. “Some people have even realized they can find a great gift, have us wrap it for free and then head to the Garden for a birthday lunch. What could be easier?”
So far, she hasn't seen a lot of out-of-town customers, but “it would be really nice to get more snowbirds.”
Her message is the same for both visitors and Yumans: Please stop in and browse!
“We want to fill that gift niche, so we have a lot of variety,” she said, from the bathrobe that made Oprah's list of “top 10 gifts to give and receive,” to animal-themed original art by Glenda Perry, a former Yuman now living in Los Angeles.
Is the downtown location everything she dreamed it would be?
“It's pretty special down here, it feels like I have a bunch of co-workers, even though here in the store it's just me and two great high-school students.”
And while she dreams of a day when she could hire someone full time and manage the store and the online business from home, she's also enthusiastic about her teaching role.
“My mentor was Anita Shields, of Anita Shields Interiors, and I learned so much from her. Now I feel like if there are young gals that are bright and eager to learn, I want to give them the opportunity to learn and get hands-on experience.”
Bottom line? “I would never have guessed I'd be back in Yuma, let alone little old downtown Yuma,” Beck laughed. “But the people are genuine. It's a good vibe.”