In September 2019, Darcy Lee, the curator and creator of all things Heartfelt, closed the doors of one of the neighborhood’s dearly loved shops.
But there’s still a buzz around the building and a warm glow when you look in the window—as if the heart and soul of Heartfelt still shines. Darcy talked to us about what’s happening with 436 Cortland Avenue and how she’s re-inventing and writing a new chapter for Heartfelt in a city where any business must innovate and change to survive.
I keep a printed copy of that post to show people because so many people ask me why we closed when it seemed so busy. I wanted to be transparent in that post because in our first quarter of 2019, my small neighborhood gift shop was down by $45,000. That was unheard of and like nothing I’d ever experienced before.
And in retail— you get behind really fast.
So I had to figure out what was happening. I’m also in retail consulting, and I was blown away by my own experience. How tangible is that?
When I stepped back to look at the situation, I realized that this is a fascinating time. So many of our core values have been jarred by this Administration and what’s happening with the President. Our principles are changing. And for most Americans, our primary cultural habit is retail therapy. For decades, shopping has been our entertainment. I looked at my business through that lens and then listened to Marie Kondo, whose message is: “Hey—only own what brings you joy.” I realized that a lot of people who used to come to Heartfelt and drop $150 because they loved my taste are gone now. People’s spending habits are different, so they don’t do that anymore. The world is changing, and our attitude about shopping as entertainment in the United States is shifting. People don’t have the same bandwidth around buying gifts right now.
I decided to create an online shop and sell the building. Selling the business didn’t make much sense because not many people want to buy a business that’s not profitable.
Now I’ve set up HeartfeltSF.com, and I’m really proud of it. It’s like a highly curated version of the shop. I picked my best sellers from 2019 and bought them again. Then I added new gifts that I thought my long-time, loyal customers would like. I chose a variety of greeting cards by local artists, because people told me that would be what they missed most, and a few toys, because I feel like toys are a very spontaneous purchase that people need for a party on the day.
Unfortunately, since it launched, the sales have been minimal. Christmas was much lower than we expected, and most of the orders were from out of state.
I feel like there’s a bit of a mourning period around the store closing. I understand it isn’t the same as being able to chat with me in person and watch me change the window displays. But I hoped my regulars would feel like, “Hey – this is a mini curated Heartfelt; this is great.”
I’ll keep it going until after the building sells because I have a space at home for an office. But beyond that, I’m not sure. I’m being very upfront about the fact that if I’m not getting orders, I can’t keep it going. For now, I’m letting it be. I’m willing to stay with it for a period of time to see what happens with this next chapter of Heartfelt. But if it doesn’t take off, I’ll have to re-evaluate and decide then.
Once they order online, they can pick it up at the store or they can have it delivered. I do a lot of personal deliveries—it’s funny. Shipping is free, so if I think it’s easier to have five boxes in my car, I’ll just drive around Bernal and drop them off.
If someone needs something right away, they can DM me and I’ll deliver the same day.
In the retail world, from November 15th until February 15th is like the high holidays. It’s our retail shine time. So you could call me foolish for closing the store before the three months when I make all my money, but I couldn’t do it another year. I just didn’t have it in me.
So I looked at this time period and thought, “I should offer this to someone in the city who would appreciate using this beautiful space.” The place is so warm and welcoming. I reached out to a couple of people, and one of them took it. They didn’t want the whole store, so I decided to make individual booths. I had one friend who wanted to rent a booth for a pop-up shop. Then I posted it on Instagram, and I got takers right away. So there was a group of local artists running pop-up shops until the end of December 2019. Then, I decided to rent it again to a new group for the period of January 15th through February 15th. This group will stay until March 1st. It’s been working really well.
Right now, Seven Sunday Studios—a Bernal neighbor—has a pop-up. They have all organic, sustainable and hand-picked vintage rugs, crafts and homewares.
Book Castle is also there. They sell unique new and used books for kids and adults.
And the Heartfelt online shop has a space there. I had such a good time setting up some of the new items.
I’ve been experimenting with renting the space for day-long workshops. It’s been successful, so I’m going to continue to do those after the pop-ups move out on March 1st. We had a wreath-making class during Christmas with Baylor Chapman. Molly from Connect with STORY held a one-day storytelling workshop. And Jennifer Bloomer of Radici Studios held an art workshop. They were all fantastic and such a great way to use the space.
Right now 436 Cortland Avenue is still on the market. We took it off for a short time and lowered the price. The listing agents are Tim Brown and Mark Brown at Keller Williams. Tim is an old friend, and I worked with him when I bought the building about 16 years ago. On October 31, 2020, I’ll have owned Heartfelt for 20 years. I’ve lived in Bernal and been part of this community since 1989. It’s been an amazing ride, and I’ve been through all the ups and downs of our neighborhood and this city.
Store pick is currently available or regular shipping
DM Darcy directly for special home delivery love
Photos Courtesy of Darcy Lee at Heartfelt
Jen Baxter is a content writer and strategist helping companies creatively craft the story of their business online. You can see more of her work at JenBaxter.com or follow her on Instagram @JenBaxterSF