An Illinois shop gives new meaning to America the beautiful with an
eclectic mix of domestically made goods.
U.S.A. is as American as apple pie—or, to be more specific, the jars of
homemade applesauce that line one of its shelves.
Located in the
enclave of Barrington, Illinois, a scenic suburb northwest of Chicago,
this shop is decidedly all-American. For one thing, the business is
housed in a circa-1920 barn that’s been painted bright red to stand out
along the streetscape. A chalkboard sign posted outside the front door
often heralds right-from-the-farm offerings such as fresh eggs and honey
and, in season, locally grown produce at its peak.
Norton’s U.S.A. does, in fact, resemble an old-fashioned general store.
The original posts and beams of the barn lend a quaint and authentic
backdrop to merchandise that includes penny candy, jarred foods,
jewelry, home accents, assorted small gifts, greeting cards, children’s
toys and kitchenware, among other items. But, one small touch makes
Norton’s U.S.A. different from other old-fashioned general stores. Here,
every single bit of merchandise is made in the United States by
American entrepreneurs and artisans.
Leydig, who not only owns the shop but personally picks out every piece
of inventory, decided to open the shop nearly four years ago after
learning how the availability of domestically made products has been
steadily and dramatically dwindling.
“I knew many things had gone
off-shore, but I didn’t realize to what extent that was happening in
our nation’s business model. I had to do something positive to help
American businesses and workers,” recalls Leydig, a self-described
Renaissance woman who also is a professional actress with a background
in fashion design and graphic design.
“I had never even worked
retail,” Leydig acknowledges. But that didn’t stop her from finding the
building—one she long had her eye on—naming it after her beloved dog,
Norton, and setting to work to learn the ropes of the business. Now, she
is a successful storeowner with a staff of one full-time employee and
three part-time employees.
Comforts of Home-Grown
As it turns out, there is a definite interest in supporting
American-made products and producers. “It’s a feel-good thing,” says
Leydig, who reports that patrons of all ages appreciate the store’s
mission and merchandise, from students stopping by after school to moms
with young children to retirees. Beyond merely surviving the turbulent
economic times, Norton’s U.S.A. is garnering loyalty throughout the
Chicago area and into neighboring states, she says.
such loyalty, Leydig shares the story of the day a customer who was
upset about a personal matter came into the shop: “She said, ‘I wanted
to feel better and go to Norton’s because it’s like coming home.’ ”
type of feedback is what propels Leydig to search out items that are
not only made in the United States, but made well. Indeed, in addition
to evoking positive feelings about helping fellow Americans, Leydig says
customers quickly realize that the quality of the products is top
notch. “You just feel like things are stronger, and they truly are,” she
remarks. “And when you walk into the store, you don’t smell plastic.”
that point, anyone who walks into Norton’s will discover an
intentionally wide variety of merchandise, from soup to nuts. “We have
soup, and we have nuts,” agrees Leydig with a laugh. In the various
displays set on shelves and on antique cabinets, hutches and
furnishings, shoppers can find all sorts of items for their home, their
friends and families, and themselves. The store is divided by areas of
interest, with sections for food, kitchen items, children’s products,
clothing, home decor, cards and gift wrap, and jewelry/personal accents.
At a time when so many products are made and assembled
overseas, Leydig says she finds vendors through gift shows in the
Midwest, personal contacts and the Internet. It can be challenging to
carry U.S.-made products in some categories, such as housewares, she
admits. “I have found more things, but not the toaster, coffeepot or
blender I needed,” she reports. Complicating the matter is the fact that
some products are assembled in the United States, but not completely
items on display at Norton’s U.S.A. are truly local, made by artists
and crafters within a several-mile radius of the store. Leydig’s own
artistic talents are on display, through the hand-screened wrapping
paper she makes in-house. Supporting local agriculture is also important
to Leydig, who carries a variety of farm-fresh products throughout the
Because of the local and entrepreneurial nature of the
products she sells, Leydig typically shares information on how items
were produced and by whom. “We do have a history behind every product
and like to tell our customers the story without bombarding them with
it,” she explains.
Marketing to Make a Difference
To engage staunch customers and attract new ones, Leydig is an active
part of the community. She participates in village-wide events with
other merchants, and says that the collaborative spirit among
storeowners and town leaders has been beneficial for all parties.
Marketing her shop is another focus for Leydig, who points out, “You are
only as good as your sales for the day.”
Among other marketing
efforts, Leydig has invested in radio ads and participated in coupon
offers. In addition, Norton’s U.S.A. hosts a series of events throughout
the year, from a plant exchange in the spring to an antique garage sale
and sidewalk sale over the summer to special holiday promotions.
now, she’s working on a cookbook to sell in the store, which will
include recipes from customers. As the fourth anniversary of the shop
approaches this summer, Leydig says that while sourcing goods completely
made in the United States has been challenging at times, the store has
been a mutually supportive endeavor. “My business model was ‘I’m going
to open a store’. I’m thrilled at where I am. I’m thankful for my
employees, and it’s been an unbelievable sense of community with our
customers,” she declares.
5 Fun Questions
What’s the first thing you do when you enter your store in the morning?
“We decide what will be tasted that day and put that out. We also change
the chalkboard that hangs outside to tell our customers what’s going on
in the store that day.”
What’s your most unusual display piece or prop?
went in my woods and cut down a small (junk) tree so I could display
our bird feeders and houses on a tree in the store! My mother couldn’t
believe that I did that and put it on the roof of my car to bring into
What’s the most unusual sale you’ve ever had?
just sold some glow-in-the-dark glitter nail polish to a man who was
going to put it on his gun sight so he could see it in the dark.”
What one item were you unsure of when you ordered, but then it sold much better than expected?
“Our purses made from cargo pocket pants.”
What fun things do you do for your employees?
am taking them to the Barrington Area Chamber Fashion Show. It’s a
lovely lunch, fashion show, and it’s all about employee appreciation!”