BETHALTO — The dream is the same, but it’s not the way Kelli Brown envisioned it.
Brown opened her shop, Sweet Ashley’s Cottage, on May 17, the realization of a plan that began a year ago but had been in the making for much longer.
The plan was always for Kelli and her daughter, Ashley Brown, to run the shop together. Growing up in Bethalto, Ashley and her mother would talk about owning and operating a storefront selling antiques.
“We used to say, ‘We’re going to have that place someday and do something special,’” Kelli Brown said.
Plans changed a few years ago when Ashley was diagnosed with leukemia. When Ashley died due to complications from a bone marrow transplant in November 2012, Kelli quit her job as a nurse after 30 years.
She opened a booth at the Alton Exchange antique store around a year ago, selling antiques and refurbished furniture, things Ashley would have liked. The booth continued to grow in popularity, gaining a following as one of the more popular booths at the exchange.
Around the same time, the property at 130 W. Central Ave. in Bethalto came open — a storefront similar to what she and Ashley had one day dreamed about owning. Seeing an opportunity, Kelli snapped up the space, recruiting her sister-in-law and Ashley’s aunt, Kathy Crews, to help her run the business.
“We always joke about it — we had a five-year plan,” Crews said. “And it had been just a year. This came available, it all fell into place. It all just worked out.”
It’s the kind of entrepreneurial chance Ashley would have appreciated. While attending Murray State University in Kentucky, she started a baking business called Sweet-Ash Delicacies. The business was successful, too — Kelli said she had trouble keeping up with the orders when she would periodically help her daughter.
When the shop had its grand opening a few weeks ago, Ashley’s friends again turned out to show their support.
“We’ve had people come from all over — Kansas City, we’ve had people come from Murray, (Ky.), everywhere,” Crews said. “A lot of the people came for the grand opening. We had people from everywhere.”
After college, Kelli said she expected Ashley to “spread her wings” but always expected she would eventually return home and open something like Sweet Ashley’s Cottage. While in the hospital, Crews said the three of them talked about opening the business. After Ashley passed at the age of 23, Kelli found a different way to incorporate her daughter’s name.
“It was a way to kind of keep her with us,” Kelli Brown said.
It’s not the only reminder of Ashley found in the shop. Amid the old barn doors and chevron-patterned chairs, Ashley’s picture hangs on the wall behind the register. Chalk boards scattered throughout the shop read “smile” and “be happy,” tributes to Ashley’s fun and outgoing personality.
“She was just one of those people that everybody loved her,” Kelli Brown said. “She’d just get to know you and make you feel special.”
With the shop still in its infancy stages, Kelli has already started thinking about the future. In time, she said they’d like to bring back Sweet-Ash Delicacies as well, catering to parties and events the way Ashley did. There may be more in store for the shop as well.
“We’ve been really blessed,” Brown said. “In less than a year to be able to do what we were hoping to do, to get a space that we could actually call our own. So we’re hoping that continues to grow and we can branch out. There’s some more things that we’d like to do that envelop her and the things that we did together.”
Running the shop was supposed to be one of those things, the latest venture for the pair that did “a lot of cool things together,” Kelli said.
But even if the plans are different, the dream remains the same.
“It’s kind of like a dream come true in a way,” Kelli Brown said. “Following a dream that started with my daughter and myself.”
Sweet Ashley’s Cottage is open four days per week. The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call the shop at 618-791-7048.
Nathan Grimm may be reached at 618-208-6451 or on Twitter @GrimmTelegraph.