About 10 years ago, illustrator Jo Ellen Stammen saw the writing on the wall.
The children’s book market was going digital and that meant a downturn in the publishing industry. After illustrating almost a dozen titles, including a Randolph Caldecott Medal finalist, Jo Ellen says she had a good run. Next she set her sights on her next big adventure.
She started designing wool rugs and pillows. Her daughter joined the business and together they opened a storefront in picturesque Camden, Maine. Then the financial crash hit.
“We had just opened,” Jo Ellen says. “We had nowhere to go but up. We did OK and the next year we did better and then business went up every year.”
Three moves later, her daughter moved on to pursue painting full time, her husband left his job in education to work at the store and business is booming.
Tom and Jo Ellen Stammen donate 10 percent of the store's profits and $10 per rug sale to charities around the world.
This success has allowed the Stammens to donate thousands of dollars a year to local, national and international charities. Hand of Hope, especially, tugs at her heart.
“This ministry is very personal to me,” she says. “They help women out of prostitution to safe places with their children and teach them a trade to support themselves.”
Jo Ellen attributes part of her success to the store’s location. Jo Ellen Designs is on Main Street in the heart of Camden with the harbor serving as the backdrop.
Locals and tourists would say it’s Jo Ellen’s bright designs, curated home gifts and the fanciful way she juxtaposes her displays that attract visitors.
“I’m an artist,” says Jo Ellen, who moved to the area 26 years ago from Ohio to raise her family. “I have no philosophy when it comes to choosing the items in my store. They need to be well-made, colorful and catch my eye.”
As inventory goes out—like Jo Ellen’s signature bedding and the old furniture given new life with a coat of paint—new displays go in.
“The composition of the displays has constant movement,” she says.
Jo Ellen also likes to incorporate environmentally friendly items. When her daughter discovered LooHoo Wool Dryer Balls at a dry cleaners a few years ago, and then found out the owner was a local, Jo Ellen placed her first order of 12.
“This spring I ordered 300 and I just ordered another 100,” she says. “Customers love them. We explain that the owner lives in town and grew her business right here.”