Jillian's Drawers is Weaning From Its Mama!

Jillian's Drawers is Weaning From Its Mama!

From Kelly Serbonich

The succession of Jillian's Drawers (including expansion!) and bittersweet goodbye to Mandi, founder, whose debilitating health issues have prevented her from remaining at the helm. Help us carry on and give back!

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Here’s our story… (more info about exactly what donations will be used for at the bottom!)

Jillian’s Drawers began out of Mandi’s home back in 2005 as a cloth diaper store and has grown to become a staple of downtown Ithaca and trusted resource for all things "baby" in the community. How did we get here? It’s a pretty amazing journey with a tear-jerking twist mid-stream...

Mandi started Jillian’s Drawers literally out of Jillian’s drawers in her home in Lansing, Michigan. Jillian is her oldest daughter and namesake of the store. After buying and selling to the moms groups and locals there, Mandi used her tech skills to create a website and made a name for herself with excellent customer service and helpful advice. She created innovative packages and ways for new families to try cloth diapering with minimal financial risk. All the while she was also working toward the completion of a PhD!

In 2007, Mandi and her husband moved to Ithaca to continue their PhD work at Cornell University. Jillian’s Drawers operations moved into the basement of their new home in Ithaca, and I became the first employee in NY. Here is where our stories converge.

I’ve been a single mom always; when I was put in touch with Mandi, I was looking for work that I could do with my son in tow that would allow me to mother the way I wanted to, while still working in the field of natural health. In the years before I became a mother, I was working as a chef in the holistic health field, published a cookbook, and spent much of my time helping others learn how to implement healthier lifestyle changes. I moved to Ithaca shortly before my pregnancy, and the idea of attempting to start a business while being a new mom seemed too daunting. I was picking up part time chef and restaurant work, however seeking a more family-friendly way to earn a living. Another mom in the playgroup we had formed mentioned Mandi and that she was looking for help. We met, Mandi was incredibly supportive, our kids (Jillian was 2 and Noah was 1 at the time) toddled together, and a lovely relationship grew!

Since then, we have opened a retail store (first on Cayuga St, and now on The Commons in downtown Ithaca), acquired and operate a diaper service, run a Community Room that currently hosts over 15 different classes and groups for new parents and young children, and created a safe space for parents to feel supported and get the help they need when navigating the world of baby and toddlerhood. We love getting to know our customers and parenting alongside you all! 

In 2013, we experienced a very challenging triad of events. Mandi was expecting her second child, and experienced debilitating pain, rendering her largely unable to walk. A major construction project began on our pedestrian mall, lasting 2 1/2 years. This affected the foot traffic of our area tremendously. To top that off, the online shopping habits of consumers swung largely to online giants, making it very difficult for smaller businesses to keep up in both online and brick & mortar retail operations. Mandi's pain continued after her daughter arrived, and in the coming years she was incapacitated by the exacerbation of an unlikely genetic condition that affects how folate and certain antioxidants behave in her body. We did our best to carry on day to day operations while our fearless leader was not able to engage. We largely did not realize the gravity of the situation, as Mandi has always been very humble and pushed on, until it came to a point where she was not able to work in the store, because she would black out during any physical exertion, experience extreme brain fog, and tingling in her limbs, and extreme muscle pain. A short stint of physical activity would set her back 2 weeks of recovery time. All the while, she had an active toddler to attend to. If you've ever been extremely sick while your child or children were toddlers or infants, you can begin to imagine how hard it was be so ill, while your child was in the age range of 1-3 years old. 

There came a point where Mandi had to acknowledge that she could no longer run the business and needed to focus solely on reclaiming her health. As you can imagine, this was such a hard thing to do. In the past few years, when faced with so many challenges, she sacrificed a lot to keep the store open, continue to provide her employees with living wage jobs, and keep this beloved community hub a staple of downtown Ithaca

I'm not sure how I would have made it through motherhood (as a full-time single parent) and been able to support myself and my son without the opportunity to work for Mandi and Jillian's Drawers. This unique and supportive place has allowed me to be with my son throughout his childhood, homeschool him, and have the flexibility to parent and have family time when needed. It has allowed me to be part of something I'm extremely proud of. It has allowed me the pleasure of serving and knowing so many families in our community and beyond, via email, via social media, via phone, and face to face. We've seen some of your kiddos from their newborn phase through tween years now! So, when presented with the opportunity to acquire the business, I jumped at the chance to continue serving our community and to take Jillian's Drawers to a new level!

While there is a lot of emotion tied into this transition, we are so happy that Mandi's health has been steadily improving! 

I began wrapping my mind around this transition in early 2017. One week after our initial conversation, I was involved in a car incident with a deer that caused me to lose my car. A week after that, I had knee surgery, which unexpectedly ended in a more invasive surgery than was planned. What was supposed to be a 4 week recovery turned into 4 months+. And without a car, I was riding an electric mobility scooter to get to work while I couldn't walk well. To top it off, I couldn't take any extra time off work, given that Mandi was ill and no one else was able to work in the store; we would have had to close. So 2 days after surgery, I was back, ice cooler, pain meds, and crutches in hand. Just as I was figuring out how to undertake this new financial endeavor, the unexpected costs of obtaining a new vehicle and medical bills when you have a high deductible health care plan were imminent. As a single parent, it is always hard to get ahead and save money, and these events really packed a financial punch. 

As we always have, we pressed on. I assessed what needed to be done, found a way to make it happen, and made plans. By the end of 2017, we were ready to make the transition! Jillian's Drawers is officially under new ownership and expanding! Our expansion includes increasing the size of our Community Room space by over 40% and expanding our retail space on the upper level of the store.

Why donate to this campaign? Because it takes a village. We've helped so many of you save $$$ over the years by offering gently used and reusable options; if there was ever a time to vote with you dollars, it's now! We have many amazing things that this funding will be used for. Here is the list:

1. 30% of funds raised will go to Mandi to help her recoup losses experienced due to her health issues. She would never ask for this, however I feel it is a way we all can say "thank you" to her for all she did, all she sacrificed to keep Jillian's Drawers the amazing place that it is today.

2. Community Room Expansion! Our Community Room, which hosts a wide array of classes and meetup groups, play area, and comfortable space for new parents, is growing by 40%! We have a better entrance/exit, fully carpeted room, wall mirrors, storage for teacher materials, capacity for larger classes/events, and more! Funds raised will help with remodeling costs and supplies needed for the new space. 

3. Retail Store Expansion! Shifting our Community Room means more space in the store! We are expanding our used clothing and shoe selection through age 5! So, we're now buying 4 and 5T! We'll have more stroller parking and a better checkout area. Funds will go toward fixtures/diplays needed to rearrange the store and inventory to fill out these sections.

4. New website! It's time for us to get up to speed with today's mobile and online shopping experience. Our new site will integrate with a new POS system in store as well. Funds will go toward the equipment needed to integrate this new website and POS system, and web development work.

If we end up raising more than our goal, we will divert some funds to our scholarship fund for classes and toward the business transition. 

Thank you! For all your support over the years and going forward. We love what we do and are so grateful for your support. Please remember to shop small and shop local! And we'll be so grateful if you share this fundraiser and spread the word!

To learn more about our store, visit www.jilliansdrawers.com.

To learn more about our Community Room offerings and classes, visit www.jilliansdrawers.com/ithacany.

To join our Facebook chat group, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/jilliansdrawerschat/

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