When COVID-19 hit the Ocean State in March, a lot of small-business owners felt their world turn upside down. Julie Beebe, owner of Wickford’s Yes! Gallery gift shop, made the best of the situation and took the opportunity to pursue her dream, launching a locally themed clothing line while her store was temporarily shuttered.
By the time the state’s stay-in-place order was lifted, Beebe had created the RI Local Love clothing line inspired by the state’s wave license-plate graphic.
Beebe commissioned graphic designer Rob Dube to adapt the design and worked with Jake Farenholz of Fresh Mode Screen Printing to embroider and screen-print the logo on clothing.
Yes! Gallery was founded as JW Graham by Beebe’s stepfather-in-law, more than 40 years ago. The store has expanded, then contracted over the years, but people recognize Beebe as a locally owned business with deep roots in Wickford.
Many people who had supported Yes! Gallery through the years were feeling financial pressure as the state slowly reopened, so Beebe felt it would be a good time to give back through sales of RI Local Love products. A portion of the purchase price of each item was donated to the North Kingstown Food Pantry.
Pre-sales were brisk, raising $2,000 for the nonprofit. Select items were then sold in Beebe’s Brown Street store throughout the summer, growing the total donation – to date – to $3,500.
With six months of sales behind her, Beebe is ready to do a brand extension and has just announced a new line that will raise money for veterans.
“It just seemed like an obvious choice, because there are so many people in our lives who are veterans and their contributions go unacknowledged,” she said.
After Googling local organizations that benefit veterans, Beebe found Operation Stand Down Rhode Island, a Johnston-based nonprofit that provides resources for homeless and at-risk veterans.
A stranger and an uncle confirmed Beebe’s choice of a charitable partner. One day, a customer came the store wearing a baseball cap that identified him as a veteran and Beebe asked him for his opinion of Operation Stand Down.
“I have several people in my life who have benefited from them,” he said, enthusiastically endorsing the idea.
The same week, she opened up her Facebook page and saw that her uncle was about to celebrate a birthday and was requesting donations for Operation Stand Down Rhode Island in lieu of gifts.
Her decision was made.
“When I told my Uncle John about my idea, his response was, ’Bravo Zulu!’” — a Naval expression for “well done.”
RI Local Love veterans’ apparel items can be ordered online now and will be delivered in time for Veterans Day, November 11. There are items in both youth and adult sizes; prices range from $25 to $67. For each hat or shirt sold, $5 will be donated to Operation Stand Down Rhode Island. And $10 will be donated for every quarter-zip pullover or hoodie sweatshirt purchased.
Orders can be placed on Yes! Gallery’s secure web site, at yesgallery-com.3dcartstores.com. If you’d prefer to try on an item on for size, select items from the line will be available in the store beginning the first week of November.
It might be a good time to pick up some holiday gifts, too.
“Our focus is on handmade and local,” Beebe says. “We have handcrafted jewelry, pottery, blown glass, handmade candles. And we have our own beehives, as well, so we sell our own local honey here.”
Small businesses are the heart of Rhode Island’s economy. Beebe is grateful to the community, which “really showed up” and shopped local this summer.
She’s hopeful that they’ll support sales of RI Local Love veterans’ apparel, too.
And she’s looking forward to the “silver lining” of this pandemic, when she can present a check from sales of her veterans line to support Operation Stand Down Rhode Island.
Do you know a living veteran who would be willing to share their story? Do you offer a program or service focused on serving retired military? Are you planning an event aimed at veterans or their families? Email Mary K. Talbot at [email protected]