Deborah Leydig is a master of reinvention. Trained at the Art Institute of Chicago as a fashion designer, she and Dana Buchman assisted Linda Allard at Ellen Tracy in New York, and eventually Deborah had an eponymous dress line. After having children, she became an actress—starring as Barbara Ehrenreich in Steppenwolf’s production of Nickel and Dimed. “It was during that time that I realized that the United States didn’t have a manufacturing base anymore,” she recalls.
Deborah’s entrepreneurial spirit and desire to affect positive change led her to open Norton’s U.S.A. in a former livery barn on Lageschulte Street, to create a one-stop shop for all things made in America. She also wanted kids to have a general store they could visit, and purchase something nice for under $5. “I really thought I could just put out my shingle and customers would come,” Deborah remembers. They did, but not in the numbers Deborah needed to grow the business. “So when the Chamber came to me in my first year, I joined right away.”
The Chamber’s resources extend to every type of business. “Whatever you do, there’s a niche for you,” Deborah says. “There’s a wide array of people involved, and you realize that we’re all connected. I haven’t met a bad one yet!” She served on the board and assisted with the Chamber’s Spotlight on Barrington’s Stars fashion show, which she attended with her dedicated team of employees. “It was very fun, and all about appreciation.”
Norton’s has been successful, but Deborah doesn’t mince words when talking about the work involved. “I’ve worked seven days a week for five and a half years,” she says. “I do all the bookkeeping, marketing, research and ordering—often at two in the morning.” She started with products from 20 manufacturers;
now that number has grown to over 375. Her 2011 sales are 20 percent over 2010’s, a figure few businesses can cite. “It’s really satisfying. The business has grown, but so has what I’ve put into it.”
Deborah started Norton’s online store in 2010, when she realized that she needed to boost revenue. She does all the design and order fulfillment in-house, as costs to outsource were prohibitively high. The site helps Norton’s hold their own in a competitive marketplace. They’re now filling about five online orders per day, which augments their daily brick-and-mortar sales. And Norton’s customer base is consistently growing, as they’ve become a destination for seekers of American-made products.
Shoppers can help Barrington and the U.S. at the same time by shopping at Norton’s. While perusing the Housewares Show at Chicago’s McCormick Place in March, 2010, Deborah realized that many inventions that were once manufactured in the U.S. during the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s were being made overseas. “But I realized it was too daunting to manufacturers to bring all their manufacturing home. So I found myself asking them to bring one home,” she recalls. Bring One Home is in keeping with a reshoring movement that is gathering momentum nationwide.
The Chamber also encourages residents and members alike to “Shop local” by offering a preferred discount program to members. From the Chamber’s sponsorship of the trolley in December, through their annual organization of the Sidewalk Sale, the Chamber actively supports retailers. “They’re there for you,” Deborah says. “We’re all just people, and we all need that sense of connection.”
Nothing pleases Janet Meyer more than seeing local businesses thrive. “Deborah opened her doors to the Chamber five years ago with a ribbon cutting, and look at her now,” Janet enthuses. She salutes the small business owners like Deborah, who have made their dream a reality: “Barrington is a thriving community filled with risk-takers. There is certainly positive energy and camaraderie that fuels the spirit of entrepreneurism in the region.”