For 40 years, Anita Olson worked in nursing, but these days, her work involves decorating.
“I want people to find things that make their homes or themselves happy – to embellish, decorate,” said Olson, who owns Embellishments in Waupaca’s downtown.
Some may wonder how a nurse came to be a retailer.
Olson said that throughout her nursing career, she bought decorating books. “That was how I balanced my life,” she said, “because work was filled with stress. I never thought it was what I would do.”
In late 2009, she become the sole owner of Embellishments, and on Tuesday, Jan. 25, Olson received the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2010 Rising Star award during its annual awards ceremony at the Best Western Grand Seasons Hotel.
Olson grew up in South Dakota and went to nursing school in Milwaukee. She met her husband, Bob, when she was working in Madison. They moved to Muscatine, Iowa, in 1970, where she was in charge of the emergency room department at what is today Trinity Hospital.
They often visited Waupaca.
“My husband grew up here,” she said. “We always knew we would inherit part of a family farm that he grew up on,” she said.
The part they inherited included a barn and an old farmhouse. “We have totally redone it on the same footprint of the old house. We’re in it two years,” Olson said.
Even before moving to the area, she and her husband found themselves returning here to visit his mother.
It was during one of those visits that Olson discovered Embellishments.
Margaret Overby, Andi Crane, Jamie McCallum-Krisel and Linda Pope were the four original partners in the business, and in 2002, one of the partners was leaving.
Olson became a new partner in the business.
“Once a month for all those years, I would drive here, and I would work one-third of the days that it was open,” she said. “Then, I’d go back to my other life.”
She and Bob were still living in Iowa at that time, and Olson worked between seven and 10 days at the store in Waupaca.
Eventually, Olson became partners with Pope and with Cheri Wolverton. In the fall of 2009, Pope and Wolverton decided they wanted to leave and retire, Olson said.
That is when Olson became the sole owner of Embellishments.
“The last quarter of 2009, I painted the interior of the store. I spread things out. I tried to assure people I would try to continue,” she said.
When Olson had been one of three partners in the business, that meant one-third of the inventory was hers.
In January 2010, Olson went to market and began making decisions about what to purchase.
“I ask for things to come in at certain times of the year, so I always have new things coming in,” she said.
Another realization that came to her was the fact that it would be a benefit to always have two people in the store.
As a result, in March 2010, she began to hire employees.
Olson has four part-time employees, and each one of her employees works with her one day a week. One employee works with her two days a week.
“It’s good on so many levels,” says Olson, who is a believer in the importance of good customer service. “The customers get better attention. We have different personalities. People will click.”
She said they are all in it together. “We all decorate. We all bounce ideas off each other,” Olson said.
She knows that Embellishments is not about the necessities of life. “It’s the joy of life. I don’t expect people to buy every time they’re in the store,” she said. “I don’t care if people come in and look. I just want people to feel they can.”
Olson is always looking for ways to connect with the community, and last year she helped establish the Retailer Roundtable, which offers a place for retailers to meet and discuss topics and ways to work together.
The retired nurse, who found balance in books about decorating, is happy about where that interest took her.
“It’s the perfect thing to happen at this point in my life,” Olson said. “One of my co-workers says the stars are all aligned.”