CONTRIBUTED BY ALABAMA RETAIL ASSOCIATION
While Christie Howell was a student at Auburn University studying early childhood education, she worked part time for the downtown Auburn gift store, Wrapsody. At the time, Wrapsody was a two-store chain that began in Hoover in 2004. When the original owners, Terry Shea and Sarah Brown, decided to sell in 2017, they knew Christie and her husband, Reel, were the ideal buyers.
“She understood the Wrapsody culture,” Shea said. “Christie … thoughtfully rebranded the stores with a nod to the past but beholding the future.”
Wrapsody, a gift boutique launched two decades ago that will soon have locations in five Alabama cities, is the state’s Gold Retailer of the Year in the Annual Sales $5 Million to $20 Million category. In 2011, under its previous ownership, Wrapsody was the Silver Retailer of the Year in the Annual Sales $1 Million to $5 Million category.
“I am so grateful for the framework laid by the original founders, the wonderful Wrapsody team that goes above and beyond every day, our trusted vendors and partners who tirelessly support us in our expansion efforts and for the local communities we serve,” Christie said.
By 2018, Christie and Reel Howell had moved Wrapsody’s Hoover location from Patton Creek to Stadium Trace Village, creating a larger customer base and giving that store a 15% to 20% annual sales boost. Then in May of 2020, the Howells opened a third store in Trussville. In October, the fourth Wrapsody will open in Homewood. With an SBA 504 loan, the Howells bought several parcels of property on 18th Street, a walkable shopping area in the heart of Homewood. Besides a store, they will also have warehouse space on the Linden Alley side of the property to centralize receiving for all the Wrapsody stores.
“The opportunity for a small business, such as us, to own their real estate is so rare, and we are thankful to have full control of our location for years to come,” the Howells said. They also bought nearby property on Linden Avenue for their corporate headquarters. They have a lease agreement for a fifth store in Madison’s Cliff Farm development, which is currently under construction.
Since 2009, “Wrapsody has provided a great business front for Auburn’s downtown merchants and local customers,” said Anna Hovey, president and CEO of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, who nominated Howell as a Retailer of the Year. “Wrapsody has multiple other locations throughout Alabama branching their retail and influence across the state.”
For the Retailer of the Year judges, besides outstanding sales, it was Wrapsody’s thoughtful expansion, marketing and community involvement that hit all the marks. Wrapsody’s local support emphasis is childhood education and sports.
While Wrapsody “continues to be bullish about brick and mortar,” the Howells said, “it is critical” to have “an online presence and offer online shopping and services.”
To that end, the Howells promoted an existing team member in 2022 to full-time web manager, which they equate to a manager of a physical location.
The Alabama Retailer of the Year awards, started in 1999, honor retailers who have demonstrated growth, innovation and a commitment to their respective communities. This year’s 11 winners were selected from 57 entries submitted from a pool of 86 nominees.
“Christie Howell is a retailer of the year EVERY year to her customers, her 65 employees and the Auburn, Hoover, Trussville and surrounding communities,” said Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown.
Wrapsody has been a member of the Alabama Retail Association since 2005.
LILY JANE BOUTIQUE EARNS GOLD RETAILER OF THE YEAR AWARD
Sarah Jane Levine, owner of Lily Jane Boutique in Auburn, has been named a Gold Alabama Retailer of the Year in the Annual Sales Less Than $1 Million category.
“I am grateful to receive this honor,” Levine said, expressing appreciation “to our loyal customers, staff, family, friends and the Auburn community for getting us where we are today. ‘Thank you’ truly is not enough.”
Lily Jane Boutique is among 11 businesses honored as the 2023 Retailers of the Year by the Alabama Retail Association.
Levine was a student at Auburn University in 2018 when she began “doing pop-up shows at friends’ and family’s homes.”
Her entrepreneurial spirit continued as she opened a 150-square-foot store in the summer of 2020 while still in college. The tiny space “gave me a great opportunity to see if Lily Jane Boutique would be a success.”
By 2022, Levine had graduated with a merchandising degree and Lily Jane Boutique grew into a 1,200-square-foot store in Midtown Auburn that strives to carry “the latest fashions with the best prices,” from game-day attire to bid-day accessories. The boutique is best known for its earring wall.
“Once we moved into the larger space, we added a men’s gift and clothing section as well as a bride/wedding section,” Levine said.
Lily Jane Boutique also has two spaces in the Auburn Mall in vendor-based areas known as Maker and Merchant.
“She is a phenomenal young businessperson,” one of the Retailer of the Year judges noted. “She started with online sales and worked her way through college. She’s an entrepreneur like no other.”
Carol Ham, a customer and a retired educator with Auburn City Schools who served as Levine’s Chi Omega sorority adviser, said, “Lily Jane Boutique has become a go-to destination for shoppers of all ages. Beyond her business cleverness, Sarah Jane has … generously contributed her time, resources and expertise to (community) initiatives that foster growth and connection.”
Anna Hovey, president and CEO of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, who nominated Levine and Lily Jane Boutique as a Retailer of the Year, lauded her “perseverance, creativity and commitment to the community.”
The chamber chose Lily Jane Boutique as its Retailer of the Year in 2022 and as the Emerging honoree in 2023 among its Best of Small Business Award winners.
Levine’s commitment to her industry and community includes speaking to a youth leadership group about her experiences, mentoring a middle-schooler interested in owning her own business, serving on Auburn University’s Young Alumni Council and serving as a committee member for Auburn Young Professionals, a branch of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce. Through Auburn University’s Eagles Program, Levine has inquired about potentially hiring “Eagles Students” for the spring 2024.
“This program allows students with intellectual disabilities to receive a post-secondary education opportunity,” she said.
The Alabama Retailer of the Year awards, started in 1999, honor retailers who have demonstrated growth, innovation and a commitment to their respective communities. This year’s winners were selected from 57 entries submitted from a pool of 86 nominees.
“Sarah Jane Levine is a retailer of the year EVERY year to her customers, four employees and the Auburn community,” said Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown.