|ITHACA, DECEMBER 2016 — The Downtown Ithaca Alliance proudly announces that one the city’s popular retail shops is celebrating a significant milestone in 2017.
15 STEPS, a specialty shop in Center Ithaca that sells ceramics, glass, wood, metal, fiber, and other handcrafted products created by regional and local artists, is heading into its 35th year in business. The store’s official opening date was November 22, 1982.
“Thirty-five years represents a lifetime of commitment and service to downtown. In an age of national retail upheaval, it is reassuring and exciting to see a downtown business achieve such a level of longevity and consistent customer satisfaction and loyalty,” said Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.
Bettsie Park and Ken Jupiter are the founders of this spectacular store where shoppers can find artisan made items, many of them one-of-a-kind. Former craft makers themselves — Park was a fiber artist and Jupiter was a woodworker — the pair over the years have learned to recognize quality artisanship. They’ve helped many area creators launch their lines, some of them to nationally known status.
“Our store is our art form and the interface and the voice for makers across the country…We understand that the artisans rely on our customers just as much as we do,” Park said.
She attributes the store’s longevity to their attention to detail when selecting products to sell at the store and to the staff who are extremely passionate about providing the highest quality of customer service.
“We want to surprise and delight our customers,” Park said. “We carry great stuff at fair prices, and we have a dedicated, caring and friendly staff.”
15 STEPS is a favorite with both locals and visitors alike. It is known throughout the region for its collections of extraordinary handmade jewelry and American crafts. The store carries collections from more than 170 artisans and features personal care products and locally made chocolates.
It was in the early 1980’s that Park and Jupiter decided they wanted to expose the rare and amazing talents of the region’s artisans, Park said.
In the Fall of 1982, the tail end of a global recession, Jupiter and Park approached a bank to invest in their business plan and asked area artists to feature their items in the shop, a modest 10 feet by 14 feet office space on W. Seneca Street. The business received a $6,000 loan and successfully secured 21 artists to feature their work at the small site which could only be accessed by walking up 15 steps.
Within five years, the store outgrew that site and moved into the historic Clinton Hall on Cayuga Street. Three years after moving to that location, and during yet another recession, Park and Jupiter opted to relocate again. This time they had their sights set on a larger space in the city’s prime shopping area: Center Ithaca, on The Ithaca Commons.
“We knew we had to up our game, and I loved the double high ceilings,” Park said.
The pair again applied for a bank loan, but the struggling economy made the industry reluctant to invest. Park and Jupiter then made a public plea for financial help, and the public responded. 15 STEPS was given roughly $100,000 in certificates of deposit from customers and friends, which were later repaid to the investors at a competitive rate, Park said.
The public gesture humbled the business partners, and they have since graciously given back to the community multiple times over by frequently donating portions of their sales to three local not-for-profit groups, Park said.
15 STEPS is in the process of redesigning its website, http://www.fifteensteps.com, Park added. Currently, shoppers can go to the website to see and buy from only a sampling of the products that are available in the store. Park said the newly designed site will feature many more items. It is set to launch soon.
While shoppers are waiting for the new website, Park and Jupiter invite loyal customers and newcomers to visit the store. 15 STEPS is located at 171 E. State St., on The Commons. A listing of store hours is available on the store’s website. Store information is also available on 15 STEPS’ Facebook page.
Darlene M. Donohue
Downtown Ithaca Alliance