Posted 09/13/2023By Susan ThompsonLake Panorama Times
Panora Mercantile opened April 15, 2023, at 134 West Main St. The brick building at the west end of Panora’s main business district has been the site of many businesses through the years. Now its five rooms and a closet are filled with a variety of items offered by separate vendors.
Tricia Belousek is the owner and manager of Panora Mercantile. She grew up in Iowa, graduated from Johnston High School, and attended Des Moines Area Community College before transferring to Iowa State University.
“During college, two high school friends moved to Arizona,” Belousek says. “I went to visit them during spring break and was amazed how large the state is. I started my master’s degree at Drake University before I decided to move to Arizona in 2001.”
She finished her master’s in Arizona and later earned a degree in accounting. Her career path took her into operations, order management, documenting policies and procedures and, most recently, working for a nonprofit supporting more than 100 members.
Belousek and her husband live in Cave Creek, Arizona. Her mother, two sisters and two nephews live in central Iowa.
“I’ve always wanted to own a retail business. My sister is a Realtor and helped us find the building in Panora when it was for sale in 2020,” she says. “The building was perfect for what I had in mind, with a quirky charm and lots of character.”
“I love to shop,” Belousek says. “I grew up going to see my grandmother in a small town in Missouri and stopping to shop with my mom in Centerville and Albia on the way. The small towns had different shoes, clothing and items I didn’t find at the mall. Fast forward to the present day, I still like to shop and find bargains.”
A year after buying the Panora Mercantile building, the couple purchased a nearby 1920s home, which they updated and rented. Belousek says the house renovations introduced them to many great people and businesses in Panora.Nancy Clawson
and Carol Redshaw
In September 2022, Belousek posted on social media looking for vendors interested in sharing retail space. Lake Panorama residents Nancy Clawson and Carol Redshaw responded and now are two of the vendors at Panora Mercantile.
“I’ve enjoyed making crafts since I was a little girl,” Redshaw says. “Since I’ve already given a lot of my creations as gifts to family and friends, I wanted a place to display my creations so others can buy one-of-a-kind gifts. I’ve considered having a booth at a craft mall in Branson, but it’s not feasible because of the distance. When this opportunity came up, I was excited because it’s a craft mall right here in our nice town of Panora.”
Redshaw’s vendor display fills two shelving units.
“I used to do jewelry shows in women’s homes where I’d bring thousands of beads, they would design their own jewelry piece, and I would offer advice and start and finish the piece. So, in the store I have jewelry and beaded serving spoons and forks, as well as beaded appetizer utensils. I enjoy embellishing onesies, T-shirts, hats, headbands and hand towels with fun words and designs.”
Redshaw also has air plants and home decor.
“Next on my ‘to create’ list is special sympathy gifts, beaded crosses, shell and pebble art, and fall and Christmas décor and gifts. It’s fun to see what sells, and I especially like it when people buy gifts,” she says.
Nancy Clawson says she was interested in being a part of the Panora Mercantile from the beginning.
“The idea of having a local place where various goods, both handmade and commercial, could be purchased year round was intriguing,” she says. “Crafters are always looking for a place or ways to help the items they make find a new home.”
Clawson is a Panora Mercantile vendor under the name SortaSisters4.
“SortaSisters4 was created after a good friend and I both retired from teaching. I had taught school and coached various things for 36 years, so I was used to being busy,” she says. “After retiring we moved to Lake Panorama from Washington, Iowa, but my teaching friend, Jane, was still in southeast Iowa. We started making crafts together as a way to stay connected and our ‘little’ sisters joined in when they could.”
The items SortaSisters4 offers at the Mercantile vary from season to season.
“We have gender-neutral onesies, pillows, lighted bottles, wine bags, tooth fairy pillows, and our surprise summer hit — freeze pop holders,” Clawson says. “Now we are adding fall and winter decorations, Christmas ornaments, and the popular microwave bowl cozies for hot soups and oatmeal. We like to make team items. Jane is a Hawkeye grad, and I’m an Iowa State grad, so both teams get represented, along with UNI and other schools.”
Clawson says being a vendor at Panora Mercantile is a great way to meet new people, including other vendors and customers.
“I appreciate having a place to display and sell items I enjoy making. Vendors can opt for different sizes of space to rent and the contract is month to month. Shoppers who come into the Mercantile will be surprised at the wide variety of offerings,” she says.Lighthouse Honey
Belousek says Lighthouse Honey, owned by Emily Donovan, continues to grow each month. Donovan had the opportunity to do an activity for a bridal shower because she was a vendor in the store.
“I thought it would be a convenient place for people to purchase honey and my other products instead of driving to my house,” Donovan says. “I also liked the idea that it was all local vendors and crafters.”
At Panora Mercantile, Donovan sells raw honey from her own bees, handmade soap, lip balm, lotion bars and candles.
“The lip balm and lotion bars are made with my beeswax,” she says. “I make the candles and soaps as well, but these do not contain any honeybee byproducts. I also sell bee-themed coffee mugs. I plan to put together some pre-packaged gift boxes to make it easier for customers who need a quick hostess or birthday gift.”Crafty Fox and Company
One of Belousek’s favorite vendors is Chloe Powers, a teen entrepreneur.
“I remember trying lemonade stands and making friendship bracelets to sell when I was little,” Belousek says. “When I opened my vendor offering to children, I heard from Cindy Tripp, Chloe’s grandmother. Chloe does a great job switching up her product offerings. I think it’s a great opportunity to learn budgeting and build a business.”
Tripp and her husband moved to Lake Panorama’s west side three years ago and retired last year. Their granddaughters Chloe, age 13, and her sister Izzy, age 10, have had items in the store since it opened. They started under the vendor name Chloe’s Crafts, but beginning in September, Tripp will add to their shelves.
“I will be offering seasonal items for fall and winter, including dried flower arrangements, wood art and more,” Tripp says.
Now the vendor name for Cindy, Chloe and Izzy is Crafty Fox and Company. Chloe says she chose the name because she likes foxes and they are crafty. Chloe and Izzy live south of Norwalk, and both learned how to sew from their grandmother.
Chloe’s first offering, and her most popular items to date, are Travel Hygiene Carriers. She folds a washcloth, then sews slots for things like a toothbrush, toothpaste and comb. The size and quality of the washcloths determine the prices, which range from three to five dollars.
Izzy’s biggest seller is cat toys. She sews pieces of fabric into small rectangles and squares, then tucks a bit of catnip inside before making the final stitches. She also creates keychains and jewelry with colorful plastic beads arranged in designs on plastic pegboards, then fused together with an iron.
The girls also offer painted driftwood art, painted garden art, dog bandanas and felting wool art.
“The girls have done well every month,” Tripp says. “They love being in a small local business and having a place to display their creations. They are learning about how to run a business, investing in their business, the importance of saving 10% each month, and giving to their church. This is a tremendous learning opportunity for them, plus they are improving their sewing skills.”CNC Wood Creations
Lynnette and Craig Little have lived north of Panora for 40 years. They own CNC Wood Creations. CNC stands for computer numerical control, and is a manufacturing method that automates the control, movement and precision of machine tools through the use of preprogrammed computer software. Using CNC, they produce wooden signs, plaques and ornaments that are available at Panora Mercantile.
“We’ve been doing this for three years,” Lynnette says. “He does the computer work and gets the wooden design completed. I do any painting needed, and he finishes up with a clear coat to seal the piece. We have a lot of family background in law enforcement, emergency medical service and firefighting, so we offer items that appeal to those professions. We also do custom projects, patriotic items and holiday ornaments.”
Other vendors offer handmade doll clothes, birdhouses, Stanley and Fuller Brush products, a well-known brand of baking products and spices, children’s toys, kitchen supplies and gift items, and more. Belousek also is a vendor, offering a range of flavored olive oils and vinegars from Cave Creek, dip mixes and gluten-free foods.
Belousek is looking for additional vendors to join Panora Mercantile.
“I think 25 vendors would be ideal. Some vendors require more space, others need a small amount of space, and we can accommodate both,” she says.
Others interested in discussing becoming a vendor can contact Belousek at firstname.lastname@example.org
One new vendor joining the Panora Mercantile in September is Emily Spradling, who lives at Lake Panorama. She has a variety of knitted items, including toys and decorative pieces, and is operating under the name Knit Knacks.
“My husband and I own the building, but it’s the vendors that make Panora Mercantile,” Belousek says. “The business wouldn’t succeed on just my items or only handmade items. It’s the variety that keeps people stopping in to see what’s there. The inventory has to change often to keep people coming back. Sometimes they find something they didn’t know they needed. I am selective with vendors and need their items to be unique from other vendors in the store.”How it works
Vendors pay monthly rent based on the amount of space they need, plus Panora Mercantile receives 10 percent of sales to help cover expenses incurred running the store. Vendors sign a contract and set their own prices. A cashier rings up the purchase and notes what was sold and the amount paid. Panora Mercantile submits sales tax monthly to the State of Iowa.
Working remotely from Arizona, Belousek reconciles each vendor’s sales for the month, deducts their rent, then sends remaining sales proceeds to vendors via Venmo, Zelle or a check.
“Recently I asked vendors to work in exchange for space rent, and so far this is working well,” Belousek says. “I know not everyone can work, and they aren’t expected to, but it is beneficial for us both. The vendor doesn’t have to worry about selling a set amount to cover the rent, and it helps me keep cash in the bank.”
Redshaw is one of the vendors who now works in the store.
“It’s fun,” she says. “It’s a great way to meet people and greet people from out of town. I encourage people to visit The Merc to get one-of-a-kind gifts, encourage local entrepreneurs and support a local business.”
Clawson also works a shift each month to pay for her space at the Mercantile.
“It’s a good way to reduce my costs, and it also is fun. You never know who is going to walk in the door or what they will buy,” she says.
Lynnette Little works a few days each month in the store.
I enjoy it,” she says. “We try to have food samples out every day, and there is always something new in the store to show customers. I think Panora Mercantile is a great place for people to shop for gifts that are both practical and unique. For Craig and me, this is much better than dragging our display to craft shows.”
Panora Mercantile recently was approved to be a vendor on shopiowa.com, which is an initiative of the Iowa Economic Development Authority with support from the Iowa Small Business Development Center.
“This will give The Merc an opportunity to have a website presence and get our products noticed,” Belousek says. “This is something I am just getting started, but it will be a great opportunity for vendors who want to grow and build their business beyond the store.”
Since its opening, the hours for Panora Mercantile have varied. Moving into the holiday season, Belousek said the vendors voted and decided hours September through December will be Fridays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Belousek will be in Panora the week of Sept. 18 and plans to have the store open additional hours while she is in town. On that Wednesday, Sept. 20, vendors will host a Panora Mercantile Fall Showcase 5-7 p.m. The business has a Facebook page, where regular updates and special events are posted.
“I am a member of the Panora Chamber, and we will be open in tandem with their events, such as Small Business Saturday, the Holiday Showcase and Christmas Tree Lighting,” she says. “I do plan to have special events to be open additional days or hours. If business increases, we can look at being open more.
“Panora Mercantile is a new business that is still growing and developing,” Belousek says. “Its success and future rely on vendors wanting to sell their items here and the community shopping here. I continue to look for a few new unique vendors and lots of shoppers.”