True Blue for Mother's Day
Not to lay on the mom guilt, but I feel like most people could do a little bit better when it comes to Mother’s Day gifting. Mail order flowers. High calorie sweets. Sentimental tchotchkes. Kitchen wares. My God, this is a woman who gave up wine and/or coffee for at least nine months, and that's the best we can do?
Enter True Blue Goods and Gifts, which has a lot about it for a mother to love. Not the least of which is that it’s women-owned. Whilst on maternity leave from hospice nursing, co-owner Melissa Williams had a dream about opening a shop with her friends, Jessica Mogis, a former Montessori teacher, and Jodie McGill, founder of McGill Law.
A year — and a class from the Small Business Administration — later, the three women had a store of their own, chicly outfitted with a mix of modern and rustic fixtures, and chockablock with unique, often locally produced, items for collecting and artful giving.
“Our customers believe that buying something in a locally-owned store, that was made by someone in the community, can make a big difference,” says Jessica, who credits Melissa and Jodie with making most of the buying decisions for the store.
Since many of their friends are well-known makers and artists on the Omaha scene, including Melissa’s dad, whose small leather goods, Brucie Bags, are local cult favorites, and Handmade Omaha founder Rachel Ourada, whose crocheted taxidermy Jackalopes populate the store, True Blue feels like a passion project.
The eponymous goods and gifts are carefully curated, but not precious. It’s a gift guide editor’s dream, with generous and eclectic options for men, women and children, at varying price points. At the same time, everything in the store is displayed so it has room to breathe.
There’s a rotating art exhibit on the east wall — most recently featuring the watercolors of Amy Haney -- and locally made items are often captioned with Meet Your Maker cards that tell more about the artist. Those looking to buy art at a lower price point can do so via the Art-o-Mat, a converted cigarette machine filled with miniature works by 22 different artists.
For those of us feeling discouraged by the current political situation, True Blue lives up to its name with Mt. Nasty and Nevertheless, She Persisted t-shirts, coffee mugs featuring RBG, and instant classic Dump Trump cups by ceramicist Peter Scherr.
"Someone got upset when we posted those on Instagram," says Jessica, looking incredulous. "They couldn't understand why we'd be political. It's like: we're a small business, we're mothers of daughters, how can we not?"
"If they don't know us by now..." Melissa chimes in.
There’s also plenty of wearable art that's not overtly political. “Heather Kita, who’s designed for (Omaha custom fine jeweler) Goldsmith Silversmith for twenty years, creates this amazing jewelry,” Melissa told me on a recent tour of the shop, while also pointing out pieces by Bomb de Fleur and ElisabethSpace. It’s clear that Melissa, in particular, has a special space in her businesswoman’s heart for jewelry, and, in fact, she used to create her own collection.
“My husband used to ask me why I stopped, and the truth is that making jewelry is ex-pen-sive,” she says. Then adds, with a twist of irony, “I tell him I’m better off running a store.”
That doesn’t mean she’s given up on making (even jewelry on slow days). True Blue frequently offers classes for children and adults, including a sewing workshop led by seamstress Christine Lustgarten in May, where participants can create a shirt using Rifle Paper Co. fabrics. Melissa’s also a co-founder of Lark & Sparrow, a high-quality, artisanal take on Nebraska-themed apparel.
“I never thought I would do anything like that,” she says with a laugh. “But since we started the store, it’s just opened a lot of new doors. I feel like we can do anything we want to do.”
What mother doesn’t want that?