Out of the Box gift shop owner Nicole Garringer was aiming to have a solid year of sales after finally emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then a fire in downtown Crystal Lake over the summer caused smoke damage to her entire store and destroyed about 10,000 items she had for sale.
“The front window was full of soot,” Garringer said. “There’s no way to stop any of that smoke from going everywhere.”
The fire on June 8 started in a neighboring paint store and caused about $1 million in damage to businesses and apartments, according to early estimates. The blaze not only destroyed Garringer’s inventory but left a strong chemical odor in her shop and other damage. The paint store has not reopened.
The challenge for Garringer was not merely to reopen – it was to do it in time for the holiday season, when Out of the Box earns about 75% of its annual sales, she said. The small business at 71 N. Williams Street has unique merchandise ranging from items on the sentimental side to fun gag gifts. Many items can be personalized.
During the four months it took to rebuild, friends and customers helped Garringer with cleaning and processing new inventory. She even organized a Facebook group called “Rebuild the Box,” which had over 50 members.
“There were so many people that come in and either clean or help with merchandise,” she said.
Loyal customer Anita Consoer was one of the many people who volunteered their time to help Garringer reopen. Consoer assisted with cleaning and restocking inventory.
“It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed being around the girls and helping,” she said. “That’s what I think Christmas is about, to help people that need it when they’re in dire need like that.”
There were other silver linings: The fire gave Garringer a chance to redesign Out of the Box entirely in her way, which made it look unique, Consoer said.
“I thought her store looked even better than before,” she said.
Garringer’s friend Amy Murray also helped with the reopening work. Opening day was a success and many people made a special trip to the store to show support, Murray said.
“She has a lot of loyal customers,” she said. “She’s definitely loved. People wanted her shop to be back.”
Before purchasing Out of the Box from the previous owner about five years ago, Garringer had a small gift store in Cary called Brush. The first year of learning how to operate Out of the Box was a struggle, Garringer said, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She wanted to reopen after the fire to give the store a chance to succeed.
“I feel like we just didn’t get a fair shake,” she said. “That was three years of just struggling, to say it nicely.”
Despite the string of bad luck, Garringer is determined to have have a better year. She said she received an overwhelmingly positive response from customers when she reopened.
“Everyone has been so amazing,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction after all of this.”
The reopening also got Garringer to expand into an upstairs space where she has an embroidery machine and engraver for custom gifts.
“We’ll pretty much have a full-blown Etsy situation up there,” she said.
The plan is to have the upstairs of the shop be a place for parties and events also. Garringer aims to have that in full swing after the new year.
“I just want people to remember that we’re there for other gifts” besides Christmas, she said. “Once we can get that going off, I really think that would be the best.”