Downtown shop a long-time dream for owners
Lynda Volkhardt remembers what it was like to be a young mother with no money and an eye for things she couldn’t afford. She learned to shop smart and find a good bargain. That common sense approach and the wisdom of age are traits she attributes to the success of her downtown shops, Right at Home and Urban Elements.
Right at Home was opened seven years ago in another location and moved to 30 N. Main when the Volkhardts purchased the historic Hessler Opera House building on Main Street. The extra space allowed them to open Urban Elements and offer even more to their customers.
This year, daughter Katie Unsworth joined the family venture full time. Unsworth has long had a hand in the operations, contributing to the upbeat, casual atmosphere of the business.
“She’s always done the fun part,” said Lynda, explaining that Katie is responsible for games and playful promotions that customers embrace enthusiastically.
Many in Rockford will know Katie, a 1987 Rockford graduate (then Katie Gual) who maintains a passion for tennis. She has organized the Rockford Community Education tennis program and also implemented similar programs in Cedar Springs and Sparta.
Volkhardt and Unsworth say they buy what they like for the store, and customers seem to enjoy their taste. “We hear we have a lot of really different selection than anyone else,” Lynda confides.
Volkhardt said she has always been conscious of pricing and tries to offer a wide price range. She remembers when she was a young mom and she’d shop for her own home, coming back with a $1.50 candle or straw flowers. Since Katie was a toddler, Lynda wished she could open a shop in Rockford and offer the kind of deals she loved to find.
Back when Lynda first had her dream of her own shop, she was interested in the building where Vitale’s is now located. She liked the Copper Pig store and also Baskets in the Belfry, tucked away in the attic of the antique mall.
“I wanted to sell new and used accessories, but I had three little kids, life was busy and I didn’t have any money,” she recalled.
In April 2003 she opened Right at Home with a European cottage-style influence. Urban Elements offers more modern, contemporary items for the home. Part of a jewelry line that is proving popular are Troll Beads bracelets, the original line from Denmark, featuring glass and silver beads.
Volkhardt said she tries not to duplicate the offerings of other downtown shops. “When people shop here, they shop the whole downtown. They don’t want to walk into different stores and see the same things,” she said.
Unsworth said the employees also deserve credit for the store. “We don’t even call them employees. They are the Right at Home girls,” she noted. All are customers who expressed an interest in working there. Volkhardt noted that in seven years they have never used applications, but instead brought on people they knew from shopping in the store.
The space used to be a print shop and at one time The Rockford Squire newspaper was produced from the Right at Home half of the space. The other side was the General Store and then the Old Fashioned Smokehouse. Contractor Linda TenBrink worked wonders in the formerly dingy rooms and a previously creepy basement area is now much-needed storage space.
“I don’t know that I do know how to run a business, but it’s running,” Volkhardt said.
The store is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is closed Sundays. The phone number is (616) 866-7716. Next time you stop by, be sure congratulate them on the store’s anniversary and see if you can’t find a little something for yourself at a great price.