Country Business


Patriot Act

An Illinois shop gives new meaning to America the beautiful with an eclectic mix of domestically made goods.

Norton’s 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.

Inside, 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.

RT OwnerDeborah 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.

Highlighting 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.’ ” RT Outside

That 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.”

To 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 manufactured here.

RT PieSome 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 year.

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.

Right 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?

RT Clothes

“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?
“I 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 the store.”

What’s the most unusual sale you’ve ever had?
“I 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?
“I am taking them to the Barrington Area Chamber Fashion Show. It’s a lovely lunch, fashion show, and it’s all about employee appreciation!”