GB Celebrates 30th Anniversary!
This week, as we get ready to celebrate our 30th year in business, my husband Donny and I marvel at the adventures we’ve had,the wonderful employees and customers we’ve shared our lives with, and the amazing number of beautiful antique buttons that have passed through our hands. It has been, as Donny (a lover of bad puns) is wont to say, “A fastenating experience.”
It all started one late fall afternoon in 1985 as I visited with my 95-year-old grandmother, Bettie Garrett, and looked through her many boxes of saved buttons. A particularly beautiful set of 1940s luster glass caught my eye, begging to be turned into earrings. One month and one craft show later, I had brought home $1,000 in sales using these and other family buttons, a fortune whose appearance seemed almost magical to the 30-year-old me.
After two years of leading a gypsy life, selling jewelry at antique and craft shows and Renaissance fairs around the South, we began to wholesale. Our first large customer was the Maison Blanche department store chain based in Baton Rouge. That summer of 1988 we also attended the Dallas Gift Market, so green that we didn’t even know how wholesale markets worked: After the first day we had sold all of our inventory, and had to create sample boards by borrowing pieces from various orders!
Our business adventures generally have taken two paths: the never-ending search for stashes of antique and vintage buttons, and the corollary search for customers to carry our jewelry. The first search has taken us to abandoned elevator shafts in the New Orleans French Quarter, to dark and dusty basements in the New York Garment District, and even to the flea markets of Paris and Shanghai. The other search, for stores to sell to, has taken us again and again to markets in Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Dallas. We have had shows on QVC and HSN, and worked with many of the finest museums and arts organizations in America, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The San Francisco Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera and the Kennedy Center. Historic homes such as the Biltmore House and hotels such as the Hotel del Coronado have also been long-term customers.
We generally produce about 26,000 pieces of jewelry a year, right here in St. Francisville in the second floor studio of our 1905 bank building. About one-third of these pieces are beaded earrings that have no antique or vintage components, but are made to complement the necklaces, bracelets, and rings that do. More than half of our pieces are still made with authentic antique brass, steel and/or pewter buttons dating from the years 1880 to 1920! Others are made with vintage pearl or glass buttons and cabochons dating from the early to mid- 20th century.
We are perhaps proudest of the relationships we have with our employees, two of whom have been with us almost since the very start: Melissa Roark has made jewelry with us for 25 years, and is now our production manager, while Corda Walker is almost to her 23rd year, and specializes in custom pieces for our customers. Kristy Small and Deena Trisler, our customer service and shipping managers, are almost to their 10th year, as is jewelry maker and buckle necklace designer Pam Stroud. We are also very proud of our own daughter, Anna Davis, who serves as company photographer, web master and social media guru.
This is also the 20th anniversary of the opening of our St. Francisville flagship retail store and button museum, which have been written about in many national magazines, including Southern Living, Southern Lady, Country Living and Victoria. This past spring we opened a second location in New Orleans on Magazine Street, and it was chosen by Gambit magazine as 2015’s Best New Retail Store in New Orleans!
When we began Grandmother’s Buttons in 1985 there were no cell phones or Internet. We typed business letters on our IBM Selectric rather than sending emails. The changes we’ve seen are astounding, and we are just so pleased and proud to still be part of it all—finding buttons, creating jewelry and delighting our customers!