Bonnie Mirkiewicz may be the owner of Forever Grateful Resale Boutique and Art Gallery, but more than 100 people and countless customers help make the shop the unique and fun place that it is. Assisting Bonnie are two curators for the art gallery who donate their time: artists Brian Pier and Joel Blonshire. Oh yes, and she also has 43 original artists and 63 consigners in her corner. “I’m grateful to all the people that are part of it,” Bonnie says. And she’s grateful to her customers that spread the word to others about her “4,500 square feet of awesomeness”.
Bonnie describes Forever Grateful as “kind of a quirky adventure. I hope it stays that way for people.” She opened April 1, 2011 at 5000 7th Ave. in Downtown Kenosha. The store is part antique shop, part Christmas shop, part art gallery, part … She describes the shop part as an “eclectic mix of antiques and vintage furniture and collectibles”. Also offered are new home accents, vintage jewelry, and a boutique section with Door County jams, pie fillings, coffee, and tea, and new gift items. Her shop is 50% consignment, and 50% her own. Bonnie quotes a fitting line she once read in a Door County shop: ‘This shop is full of nothing that you need but everything that you want.’
The former downtown shop Forever Christmas is now housed in Bonnie’s store. Bonnie was driving by when the shop was having a liquidation sale. She reached out to the owner, whom she didn’t know, and offered her space in her store because she felt a dream was dying. She didn’t even realize the store’s name was similar to her own: Forever Christmas.
Then there’s the art gallery, encompassing three floors. Bonnie isn’t an artist, but she would visit a watercolor artist friend who had her work just lined up inside her house. Bonnie asked why she didn’t show her work. The response was there aren’t enough places to show art. That’s when Bonnie knew that if she ever had a shop, she would dedicate a part of it for artists.
New art is offered: “beautiful original art of all different mediums” including watercolor, oils, acrylics, photography, pottery, mosaics, wood pieces, bonsai trees, jewelry, metal art, glass, Egyptian jewelry, marble and granite carvings. “It’s amazing. God picked these artists, that’s for sure. I’m still overwhelmed when I see their work,” says Bonnie.
Brian’s studio is in the shop, so when he’s not working the counter, he’s painting for all to see. He also teaches oil painting workshops in the shop the third weekend of every month. Anyone interested can call the shop to make a reservation. The classes are offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, and interested students may come for one or both days.
Opening a store like this had been at the top of Bonnie’s bucket list, and her dream for 29 years. It’s something she’s always planned on doing, but later in life. Then two things happened to make ‘later’ come sooner. A registered nurse and director of nursing at a 200-bed long-term care facility, Bonnie needed an occupation more conducive to caring full-time for her mom, who was suffering from severe Parkinson's disease and dementia. With the shop, she was able to bring her mom to work with her. Her mom sat in her own chair, and while unable to communicate, artists and shoppers would talk to her. When she was well, her mom liked visiting consignment shops.
The other life-changing event was when Bonnie was diagnosed herself with Parkinson's disease three years ago. She decided to follow her dream now, and not wait years from now, when she may no longer be physically able to run a shop. “That diagnosis changed everything in my life. It gave me the courage to step out, do something I’ve always wanted to do,” Bonnie says.
A resident at the time in the southwest suburbs in Illinois, Bonnie chose Kenosha to move herself and her mom to, and to start a business in. Why? Because she liked what she saw while visiting her daughter, a Carthage College student. She previously had no idea of “all the awesome things” in Kenosha.
After opening, Bonnie noticed that men wouldn’t come into her store. Apparently perceiving it as not “manly”, they would keep walking by as the women with them would point to the store. Or they would stay in the car, while the women shopped. So how did she ultimately entice them? By adding “boy stuff” in the window display: a nautical section. And it worked! She’s constantly expanding the large nautical section. There are model ships of all sizes, including a six-foot long, five-foot tall vintage ship that took a man from Norway five years to build. Another ship is 100 years old.
Passing by Forever Grateful, you can’t miss it, as two of the store’s many mascots stand greeting one and all when the shop is open. Bonnie says people take photos with them all the time. One is a Bears fan: George the Bear, so named after George Halas. Then there is Yohansen from Wisconsin, who is a Packer fan. In the entryway are a Pirate named Captain Bootstrap Blake, and at least at the time of this interview there was also an Indian statue. Unlike the other mascots, the statue is for sale. Bonnie can’t name him for fear she will get too attached to let him go. And then there is Hotlips Annie – so named by the consigner who donated her to the shop.
And what’s with the waving cats in the store? The waving cat is also known as the Maneki Neko. Bonnie's daughter went to China in January on a Carthage trip and brought her a waving cat statue for her front counter. Everyone wanted one like it. Bonnie says of all the items in her store, the customers wanted this small plastic waving cat. She was able to track down a supplier, and now sells them. According to Asian folklore, the waving cat brings love, luck, and prosperity wherever it resides. She has many throughout her store, and it’s become a game, like Where’s Waldo, as people bring in their kids and grandkids to locate them all.
On Second Saturdays, Bonnie is known to host art receptions and offer fun specials. Some months it’s “I Got It For A Song”, in which customers can come and sing a song and get 10% off their purchase order. They don’t have to sing the right words or sing well or be in rhythm! Then there’s “I Think You Can Dance” in which customers are welcome to break out their dance moves to receive 10% off their order. It’s all about having fun, and having a good time at Forever Grateful!
One of Bonnie’s goals is to “help people know that downtown is alive. There are wonderful restaurants, shops, bakeries, music, art, the lake …I just love downtown.” She is a true ambassador, spreading the word about all there is to see and do in the area.
Another goal of hers is to give back to the community. She has held six or seven benefits for different organizations since she’s opened. She’s orchestrated two parades, including a very successful Easter Bunny Parade which went from her shop to Library Park. With donations from other businesses, 1,500 eggs were hidden in the park last spring and the procession stretched at least a block long with 150 kids. She played tour guide, and explained what the participants were passing by. She says this will be an annual event.
A future goal of Bonnie’s is to open a small coffee shop inside the store, but she doesn’t know when that will happen.
Why is Forever Grateful a KACVB Tourism Partner? “It’s really important for me to be part of the community of Kenosha – not just the business community, but the life of Kenosha.” She wants to connect with the local community and tourists. She also believes it’s important to be part of promoting other businesses, and she appreciates what the CVB does. She enjoys meeting other shop owners and learning from them. She believes it’s about collaboration and not competition. She really feels the business owners support each other. “The more that is down here, the more people that will come.”
Very aware of all the stress people face in this world, she wanted the shop to be “a healing place” for people to come see beautiful art, listen to music, browse in the shop, and reminisce. And that is exactly what it offers. “I really hope people enjoy the experience of the shop.”
The shop’s name comes from the contemporary Christian song “Forever Grateful.” Bonnie tells people, “God is head of this shop. He just uses my tax ID because he doesn’t want to deal with the government.” She also often uses the phrases: “Within these walls are no strangers, but friends who haven't met.” “You will enter as a stranger and exit as a friend.”
“I’m really grateful to the people of Kenosha for accepting me and my business,” Bonnie shares. She’s also grateful to every customer that walks through her door. “It’s not about the stuff. It’s about the people.”
Sadly, Bonnie’s mom passed away last month. Hotlips Annie now sits in her chair, to fill the void left behind.
(262) 484-4139, www.facebook.com/ForeverGratefulResale