hen Kimberly Thompson greets customers as they enter her shop, she’s often met with the question, “Is this just all you do?”
Emphatically she answers, “Yes!”
“Besides being a mom, this is just all I do,” said Thompson, 55, with a laugh. “And I couldn’t be more proud or lucky. Every day, I interact with customers and co-workers that are my friends — people that care as much about the place as the person who owns it. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
That place is the Grateful Gourmet. Located on Galena, Ill.’s, bustling Main Street, the shop recently celebrated its 25th year.
It offers “a little something for everyone” when it comes to kitchen tools and accessories, Thompson said, from cookware staples to quirky and unexpected gadgets, coffee and tea, gourmet food, linens, serving ware and more.
“We just continue to not be the same as ‘just another kitchen store,’” she said. “We choose to be better.”
Setting up shop
Thompson and husband Earl made their home in Galena 27 years ago, when Earl took a work position in the area.
He has since launched the gourmet coffee company Galena Roasters, which opened in 2018, down the street from the Grateful Gourmet.
But in those first years in a new town, Thompson felt as though she was floundering.
“Opportunities seemed very few,” she said.
She took solace in checking out the shops that lined Galena’s Main Street, and one day, found herself in a kitchen store.
“I saw a lot of potential in how it could be run,” Thompson said. “Somehow, I could envision what I would do and how I could make it better.”
Then, one day, the shop closed, and the building became available.
With no prior experience running a business, Thompson followed her intuition.
“I put together a business plan and went to a bank in Elizabeth, Ill.,” she said. “They really helped me and took a chance on me. But I gave myself no other possibility or chance this could fail.”
The Grateful Gourmet opened its doors on Aug. 1, 1998.
Beginning as a humble first-floor storefront at 1,000 square feet, the shop has since expanded to include 4,500 square feet between two floors and two buildings.
“At one time, we also had a sister store across the street,” Thompson said. “But it became too much, and we combined them.”
In addition to Thompson, the shop has eight employees — four of them full-time and all women.
Thompson credited them with making the Grateful Gourmet what it has become as a business anchor in downtown Galena — particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Business always ebbs and flows, but with COVID, it was a scary time and was really hard,” she said. “As small business owners in Galena, we just had to keep reminding ourselves that we were all in it together. A lot of people were incredibly kind, buying things they probably didn’t necessarily need. I just kept plugging away and found things to do at the shop. And despite not knowing what was going to happen, employees stayed with me.”
While business continues to rebound from the pandemic, Thompson said the challenge remains to be competition from big box stores and online retailers, such as Amazon.
“To be a successful, one-stop shop, you have to be creative and innovative,” she said. “I have to constantly surprise my customers. I have to come up with unique products that make them say, ‘Wow! I really need this.’ Things that are new, interesting, useful and things they can’t find anywhere else. You can never get complacent. You have to do what you do and do it well. It’s hard work.”
Balancing business and family
While Thompson loves busy days at the shop, she also loves time with her husband and daughter, 19, who recently went off the college, making the couple empty nesters.
“It’s devastating,” Thompson said with a laugh.
She also enjoys reading and music.
But her enthusiasm for the Grateful Gourmet runs deep, even after 25 years.
“With fall arriving, the town just comes alive,” Thompson said. “It’s such a happy time, and I love just sinking into that.”
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.