Retail With Purpose — Kaitlyn McKenna

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As a Boston resident, I find myself exploring different neighborhoods on the weekends to get a better sense of the city outside my usual bubble. In South Boston or “Southie”, you’ll find beachgoers, packed bars cheering on televised football games, and some great local shops and restaurants where In Good Company Shop sits on East Broadway. After hearing about its recent opening from a coworker, I met with owner Kaitlyn McKenna, a former corporate interior designer. We later sat down for an emotional conversation about her business and journey to build In Good Co. She runs the shop (both online and in-person) as a sole proprietor with only some help from her partner and a small women-owned PR firm that helps her spread the good word. Familiar with what it feels like to be an outsider, Kaitlyn is openly gay and stresses the idea of belonging and how this motivates her to welcome people into her space. She wants to encourage others — especially those who like herself are part of the LGBTQ community — to feel like they belong.

You opened in June 2021, since I heard about your shop shortly thereafter from my coworker, but when did you know you wanted to open a shop?

I’d say the process officially started in February this year when I committed to the space, but a lot of things in my life had to shift before I could actually make the store possible. I still worked a full-time design job, splitting my time at first, but it quickly became clear that I had to go all in. The idea was always in my head — to have some kind of small business. That stemmed from my love of gift stores and when I worked at an ice cream shop, then a ski clothing and gear place. I found that I liked helping people, the customer service aspect: someone comes to you for ice cream, you provide the ice cream, and it’s so satisfying in that way. I already knew that about myself when I was younger but followed the more traditional path of a career in interior design. I loved working in the industry, but I just didn’t get that satisfying feeling. I was interested in being my own boss, which can’t happen in the corporate world. Growing up in a family where my parents got divorced when I was really little, there was always a pull to be with either my mom’s side or my dad’s. It kind of manifested in feeling that I didn’t belong, which led to spending a lot of time figuring myself out.

I didn’t open my shop on a whim. It’s very personal to me. I’m gay, I own the business with Emily, my girlfriend, my fiancé, and it’s really important that it’s a safe space for people, if they don’t have anywhere else to go, if they truly feel like they don’t belong … I felt like that in my own life, so I want my space to be a sanctuary for people — anybody truly, but specifically people in the LGBTQ community. That’s why the space itself is important. A physical space like this shop is a reassurance that you can belong wherever you believe in people. I have the support of Emily now. We talked about starting the business as an [economic] unit — how we want the rest of our lives to look like. We want to build a family here in South Boston and it’s important for us to feel connected to the community so a small business in the community is what makes sense for our family. Just me and her, and then eventually, the family that we build. It was a risk that we were willing to take despite that, financially, it was a hard pill to swallow.

When you knew you wanted to do this, were you actively searching for a space or simply in the neighborhood and aware of the real estate options?

I’ve lived here in Southie for 10 years. 10 years ago, I bought a place here, lived in it, rented it out, and then moved back in — so I’ve been connected to this specific part of Southie on the east side for 10 years. I was aware of what businesses were on the street and have been a supporter of small businesses. As I was considering this shop, the wheels were turning in my head. I made an Instagram first to kind of make it feel real (the accountability of it) and then searched for the space second. I chose this space because of its location adjacent to the library. It’s also in a building that people here know; where they line up for brunch and the bars, so we get a lot of foot traffic. After getting the space, I felt, “I have to make this happen”.

I personally love walking through this neighborhood. When I enter these spaces, I’ll think, “this is beautiful, it’s inspiring” but also, “now I’m aware of my surroundings and the space it takes up”. How does that perception relate to your shop?

I think that I’ve always been affected by space. You can kind of see everything has energy, but especially space. You can walk into a space, and it can feel really heavy, or you can walk into space, and it can feel really light. In terms of my space, I really wanted it to be luminous — a bright spot on the street. The idea was to make people feel uplifted when they visit. On the shopfront, there’s a quote that kind of ties everything together. From the street, that piques people’s interest and draws them into the shop. Then I have a mural on the back wall that creates a secondary layer to make you want to go all the way in to experience the full effect. It kind of reminds me of a yoga studio because it makes you relax. You go in, and the graphic itself is a sun and the moon which plays into that quote on the shop window: “Here, we all are under the same moon under the same sun in good company”. This fits into the framework that I learned in interior design school, which is having a concept thread throughout your design. This helps you make design decisions that tie back to the concept. Everything has a purpose and a reason, which helps make the outcome feel cohesive. That’s good design.

The premise of the shop is to have a lot of makers who make things that are not harmful, purposefully, for the good of humanity, with thoughtfulness. Collectively, all of these makers are in good company.

Can you speak more about the makers within your shop and how they’ve affected you in this journey so far?

I initially found makers through Instagram but then one day, a maker was in my shop, perusing the assortment. She had all these rings on her fingers, and I said, “I love your rings.” She told me she made them and that she’s a jewelry designer on Etsy and I asked if she wanted to sell her products in my shop. She said she would love to but never sold through a shop before. She’s also a LGBTQ maker and mine is a LGBTQ owned shop, which led to a symbiotic relationship. That’s a story about personal connection. Now she has rebranded and is getting a lot of traction. She feels really good about the products that she’s creating. Being able to help her gain a wider reach makes my heart happy. I think it’s all about, at the end of the day, remembering human connection: we all probably feel the same way, which is that wanting to be seen and it feels good to see other people.

In that interaction the physical element was important since a maker came in and you were able to see her wares, but your reach extends to selling online as well. Can you talk a little bit about what you want your customers to experience?

I think that this space, the physical space, is the most important to me. Obviously, for sales, the online business is necessary, but that’s not my goal. I think you need physical spaces and especially in this community, they are super important. Even if people aren’t coming into my shop during the day, there’s an experience in meeting them [on the] street. I want it to be a space where people have a reason to get together for coffee with a friend and to come into my shop; a gathering space where people can come and share an experience together.

You also host events in your space, how did that come about as an extension of your shop?

We have had full moon circles there, which is really just like an intention setting ritual around the full moon. We’ll do a full moon circle every month and the practice comes from yoga. It’s something that we used to do, but the space it was held in isn’t there anymore. It was natural for us to move the event into our space so the community would still be able to experience it. Our space is pretty small. Ideally, we would have a space where we can host events so we can offer more to the community. We have also hosted at the Clay Lounge in the SoWa (South of Washington) arts district which was inspired by sparking creativity that people didn’t know was in them. The Clay Lounge is also a new business that I discovered during COVID. The owner, Jesse’s underlying theme is that everybody is creative. We use the Clay Lounge space for that event, and you can purchase pottery in the space. People are already familiar with Jesse as a maker in my space, so they get to go to the studio where he’s actually making the things that are in my shop, see that process and then also create their own.

In Good Shop Co. identifies local opportunities and collaborates with other businesses through physical spaces beyond its own. It is a strategy that many business owners in possession of physical space can adopt as well, to strengthen their networks and help grow local businesses.

Conversations with J Wheaton. Written by J Wheaton. Edited by Eugenia Macias.

Cover Art by Sarah Emory. Brand Design by Meghan Hricak.