New Kids on the Block-Blackboard Mercantile’s new- school gift shop

It was at age 12 that Jenna Holtshulte first visited “Giggles”, a mom and pop gift shop in Decatur, IL. It was the first time she realized that a person could actually run a small, personalized store as a profession. The quirky, creative shop was a spark that helped Jenna (and husband Alex) start the journey toward opening her own shop this month in her hometown, Hillsboro, IL.

The shops moniker “Blackboard Mercantile” takes inspiration from the old chalkboard that now hangs in her bright, energetic, new-school gift shop. The chalkboard was saved by her grandfather from the schoolhouse he attended in Witt, IL. Later Jenna’s Grandmother set up the old chalkboard and some school desks in their basement so the kids could play at school. It’s at that board that she began to develop a love for calligraphy and the schoolhouse aesthetic.

“I told Alex ever since I met him that I wanted to open a store”. In college the two would walk downtown Edwardsville dreaming of filling one of the empty storefronts with their own shop. A few years later the couple found themselves moving back the their hometown of Hillsboro, IL and starting a family. Jenna and her childhood friend Anna started a calligraphy driven business call Jai Renee. The business did well, and gave the duo some bravery, helping Jenna and her husband to begin to see how supportive their hometown could be. “We did really well at the Imagine Hillsboro Harvest and Christmas markets, and started to constantly have orders for custom signs.”

To help promote the brand Jenna would post stylish photos of the products in her home and started to get local interior design jobs. The couple would periodically call about storefront rent prices or toy with the idea of a store, but it never really got serious until they found out I (Brian Lee) was going to renovate this current building.

A few years ago the building that now houses Blackboard Mercantile and Evi Salon sat vacant.

In the process, Anna Limbaugh (yes, the childhood friend and Jai Renee collaborator!) ended up moving her salon into the first side of the building. “The energy and response to Anna moving into this hugely renovated building and the way the community supported it solidified the feeling that our community would surround our new venture. ” Between this , the local community supporting Jai, the interior decorating jobs, and all the activity and new blood downtown, the two decided to pull the trigger in April 2019.

The new shop focuses on stylish home goods, kids stuff, and gifts (although Jenna doesn’t love the term “gift shop”). “We’ve been visiting cool shops that I would scope out through instagram on Alex’s business trips. She claims inspiration from Imogene + Willie in Nashville and mom and pop shops in seaside Florida. We’ve been going to all these shops and looking at the brand names trying to find things that will fit our aesthetic.”

Jenna and Anna now have a door between their two shops, It’s almost something the two girls could have played at as kids!

We’re all excited to announce…

The grand opening is September 6th from 5-9pm and will be open on Saturday 11am-2pm!

Come be a part of the celebration!

Regular hours will be of Wed-Fri 10-6, Sat 11-2


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