Customer service key element at Charlene's Gifts with a Special Touch
Oct. 13, 2012 at 5:13 a.m.
With its manicured lawn and old-time details, the house at 401 S. William St. looks like many others on the block. Step closer, however, and one realizes it's home to more than just the people who live there.
The tan and white building also houses Charlene's Gifts with a Special Touch, a shop that aims to offer something different to Crossroads consumers.
Although nearing the store's 30th year, the road to opening - and maintaining - a business wasn't easy, owner Charlene Mitchell said.
It all began years back, when the Beeville native and then-single mother fell on hard times. With no car, child support or way to financially support the family, she said the outlook was bleak.
"Everything did not look good," she said. "I wasn't sure what to do."
Advice from a representative with Beeville's Texas Rehabilitation, however, brought the first glimpse at a light at the tunnel's end.
He advised Mitchell to pursue an education in jewelry technology, a subject that had interested since childhood. Family trips to Laredo always included a visit to a friend's shop, she explained.
"He always gave me a piece of jewelry, every time I went in," she said. "That was so special to me, and it inspired me to do the same thing."
School wasn't easy, but she had financial help from Texas Rehabilitation and family, while fellow classmates also helped with food and the like. She wrapped up her time with Paris, Texas's Paris Junior College at the top of her class.
From there she hit the ground running.
Mitchell, who relocated to Edna, started small.
In 1984, she donned a dress and visited oil companies, handing out cards and letting them know she repaired jewelry.
"I got job after job," she said, smiling. "I'd go, resize rings, get my money then and go buy groceries."
With time, Mitchell gained ground and, with help from an Edna man, she gained a home loan. Eventually, she had a place to call her own.
As Mitchell found her footing, she opened a shop in downtown Edna, slowly building her inventory of books, gift items, bath products and more.
"My mom used to say 'You don't eat an elephant but one little bite at a time,'" she said. "I never purchased anything that I wouldn't want."
That attention to detail makes a difference, said Jeanette Stockton, a Louise resident who has shopped Mitchell's store for more than 20 years.
"At first, I went in because it was sort of like going to a fantasy shop," she said. "I thought, 'We have Neiman Marcus right here in Edna. If you look around long enough, you'll find something you've never seen before."
A frog-shaped salt cellar is among Stockton's favorite purchases, she said, although a set of earrings from the shop are also close to her heart.
Mitchell relocated to Victoria in 2001, a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and said she's experienced both the ups and downs of business over time.
In a post 9/11 world, many of the European companies she worked with have since closed. While that means added difficulty in getting items into her shop, it also means the things she offers are hard to find elsewhere.
Hurricane season also introduced turmoil, she said, recalling a year she found herself evacuating town in her Suburban with thousands of dollars in chocolate.
"We barely had room for anything else," said Mitchell, who now waits to stock up on the gourmet confections until storm season's end.
Still, she made it through.
The business owner might run her endeavor a bit differently than others - the door remains locked because it's still her home, and she prefers customers schedule appointments - but she said she holds herself and her shop to high standards.
She won't carry anything she feels goes against her Christian values, for instance, and enjoys visiting, offering chocolate samples and going above and beyond for her customers.
Giving back is important, she said. After all, she wouldn't be where she is today without generosity from others.
Looking ahead, Mitchell said she's considering scaling business back to focus more on the jewelry work she loves.
Whatever happens, she said, she plans to keep going.
"I know if I put my mind to things, God will help me," she said. "He always has. I'm determined to be in business."