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Check Out Jenna Holtschulte’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenna Holtschulte.

Jenna, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
During my childhood, I would play “school” on a vintage blackboard that hung in my Grandmother’s basement. It came out of a one room schoolhouse in her hometown. I became obsessed with doodling and leaving silly quotes on it for her to see. She always would comment how much she loved it the next time I would see her. It just became something so signature to visiting her house. That’s really where my initial love for hand lettering started, I remember spending hours down there just writing names and finding that therapeutic.

I have always loved shopping local. We would often visit my family in Decatur, Illinois and shop their local downtown area. I was so enamored with their unique gift shops and the smell of Del’s Popcorn Shop. Those little shops felt like a dream, and I knew it was something I wanted to bring to my small hometown someday.

I went and earned my Bachelor’s in Accountancy. I worked in the field for a handful of years before becoming a stay at home mom. After a while, I needed to find a way to fulfill my creative side. I started taking an interest in photography, so I bought my first professional grade camera. I really leaned on one of my close friends, who was a photographer, to help me learn the basics, and after a while I was shooting in manual mode and photoshopping my own pictures. I later teamed up with a good friend and we started a handmade sign business, Jai Renee Handmade. We did a lot of local events, markets, and opened an Etsy shop. Our community supported us in a way we never expected. It became the platform for me to dial in my hand lettering, and granted me the confidence that if I opened my own shop the community would support it.

A local in Hillsboro started fixing up some of the old buildings on our Main Street and approached me about putting something in one of his storefronts. I told him about the store I always wanted to have and bring to this community, and he was 100% on board. It felt like it was meant to be, so after talking with my husband we decided why not give it a shot!

That old blackboard from my grandmother’s basement now hangs behind the counter in my shop. Blackboard Mercantile is fun, trendy & classic. It is full of everything from little gifts that spark childhood nostalgia to vintage inspired home decor pieces., and of course, unique items personalized on the spot.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
We opened in September 2019, and the shop almost immediately took off. The local excitement of a new store, and opening during the holidays set the bar high for us in terms of expectations for the store. We temporarily shut down the shop in March-May 2020 due to COVID. However, instead of feeling disappointed, we decided to find a way to succeed through it all. I started posting photos of my items on social media and made sales through DM’s and Facebook messages. That turned out to be a really great learning period for me. I found new ways for my product to reach people, and I focused on finding unique ways to develop digital content. Our social media platforms began growing quickly and it was incredibly exciting to see who our posts were reaching. Our sales were beyond anything we could’ve ever expected and our hearts were overflowing with such gratitude that we had seen such success during a pandemic.

2021 took a bit of a turn as sales got slower and there was less foot traffic coming in the door. We were then hit with the supply chain crisis and the surcharges to follow to cover freight and inflation. However, we closed out the year on a high and 2022 has been off to a promising start.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Growing up people always labeled me as “creative”. I was frequently praised for my handwriting, drawings and random artwork I would make for people. I have personalized everything from friends’ college notebooks, to piggy banks and gift bags. I have hand lettered so many tattoos I’ve lost count. Doing even the smallest hand lettering projects for others has meant the world to me and truly what I enjoy doing the most.

If you had to, what characteristic of yours would you give the most credit to?
Commitment. Running a small business takes the majority of your personal life. My family and I have forgone our weekends and my husband and I take turns working the shop when the other can’t. It’s not giving up when you’ve had a week of slow sales and a pandemic turning everything against you. We opened this shop not only to fulfill a dream of mine, but we also wanted to better our community. We are committed to our core to keep Blackboard Mercantile a long time success!

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