A former Chicago resident chased her dream all the way to Kewanee, recently opening a women’s clothing shop, Blissful Branch Boutique, inside Heartfelt Gifts.
Tiffany Rowden’s path that led her from the big city to Kewanee was anything but a straight line, but the end result fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming a business owner.
Rowden grew up on the south side of Chicago. At 23, she and her family moved to Florida. For 13 years, Rowden lived and worked there, beginning her retail career with Bealls, a department store with 500 locations across mostly the southern region of the country.
“Right out of college, I always knew I wanted to be a retail buyer,” Rowden said. “I learned everything I could about the retail industry.”
While living in Florida, Rowden secured a position that propelled her into the world of retail buying. At the HSN (Home Shopping Network), Rowden purchased clothing, accessories and shoes for the television network and rubbed elbows with celebrities such as Sherly Crow, Daisy Fuentes and Chef Curtis Stone.
But after 13 years of living in Florida, Rowden said she had had enough.
“I threw darts all across the U.S. to find a buyer position. I really wanted to run my own store. How did I get there?”
Within six months, she got a dream offer and quickly moved back to her hometown to work for the Chicago White Sox as a buyer for eight or nine merchandise locations within the stadium. Rowden said she purchased clothing items, hats, novelty items, accessories and exclusive custom stadium designs for the baseball franchise.
While it was difficult to leave her family behind in Florida, Rowden said the position offered her a new opportunity to learn. While working for the White Sox, Rowden met her fiance on a dating app in August of 2019. Her fiance, Ryan Bockewitz, was in Chicago at the time, but lived in Kewanee.
For months, she traveled back and forth by train from Chicago to Kewanee to see him. She eventually upgraded to a bigger apartment in Chicago and settled in. But the pandemic hit in early 2020 and by Spring, Rowden was given a business disruption leave.
“We were getting set up for the 2020 season and they told us to go home,” she said.
In September, Rowden said she gave up her apartment in Chicago and made the move to Kewanee. She took part-time work at Tanners Orchard and was offered seasonal work at Heartfelt Gifts, owned by Sue Sagmoen.
“I started talking to Sue and gave her my vision for my boutique,” said Rowden.
Rowden said she was surprised when Sagmoen offered her about 400 square feet of her building. She began to file the necessary paperwork and by January of 2021, she opened up Blissful Branch Boutique in the rear portion of the gift shop. Sagmoen not only offered her a space to begin her business, but also a valuable mentorship.
“The pieces fell into place,” she said. “I’m very grateful for this opportunity that Sue has given me.”
But the White Sox weren’t done with Rowden. This Spring they called her back to work and she had to turn them down.
“I contemplated (going back). Sometimes it’s not about the money, but the different direction your life takes you,” she said.
Her friends like to joke that Rowden’s story could be the subject of a Hallmark movie where a big city girl steps off a train and finds her happily-ever-after in a small town.
Rowden said her boutique gives her a chance to outfit the women of Kewanee and offers styles that would appeal to both younger and senior demographics. Her shop offers tops, bottoms, dresses and sweaters in sizes small to x-large with a mid-range pricing, which she says is affordable. She also offers some styles in plus-size.
“I told Sue that I wanted good quality clothing. A lot of the clothing is made in the U.S. and there’s a lot from California.”
The boutique has provided her with the chance to become both a buyer and business owner and Rowden said she has several buying trips planned. Sales, she said, have been going well and she’s mostly relied on social media and word of mouth to advertise.
Rowden said she is looking forward to the upcoming sidewalk sale in July and experiencing Hog Days in September.
“I see a lot of opportunity here,” she said. “We are planning on starting a family here. I feel like this is going to grow and get bigger.”