A Dream Realized
Shannon Blake wants her young daughters, and all girls, to understand how important it is to be their bold, brave, and authentic selves. And she’s modeling that herself as she juggles her many roles and steps outside her comfort zone to take Penny Lane Emporium in some new and exciting directions.
In 2017, Blake took a leap of faith and made a long-held dream come true when she started her own business after 17 years in corporate retail at URBN. She brought this solid background in fashion and retail, lots of support from her family, and her fresh, fun sense of style to creating Penny Lane. She also brought firsthand knowledge of moms and kids and a desire to transform the often frustrating and dispiriting experience of shopping with and for kids.
“I am my customer,” she says, “and I know how completely crazy life is.” In the colorful, whimsical world of Penny Lane Emporium, Blake offers “a sprinkling of everything and something for everyone”—a mom-curated, kid-approved selection of merchandise that’s fun, stylish, creative, and unique. With giftables, books, toys, novelties, and clothes, it’s a one-stop-shop for all kid-inspired occasions. Kids and adults alike love exploring the shop’s nooks and crannies. Even the countertop, featuring a beautiful mosaic thousands of carefully placed pennies, is a labor of love.
“We like your style, kid,” says the hip Penny Lane panda in the slouchy yellow hat. The panda has been standing outside the shop welcoming everyone for a year and a half now. Since then, the Penny Lane concept has evolved and blossomed in some fun and unexpected ways.
The Alley @ Penny Lane
One of these surprises has been how quickly the shop’s event space, The Alley @ Penny Lane, has taken off. Blake says that the need and desire for kids’ activities in the community quickly became apparent. In response, she launched the space in 2018 and curates a monthly calendar of unique programs that engage, entertain, and educate kids. She enjoys finding people to collaborate with to offer new fun events in this versatile space at the back of the shop.
The Alley’s bright, Brit-themed mural welcomes eager participants. While the kids might not know the Beatles references, they definitely know they’ll find lots of kid-friendly fun here—whether it’s yoga, a Harry Potter-themed evening complete with wands and Butter Beer, a cool craft project, story time, or a music class. One overarching goal that’s particularly close to Blake’s heart is to help girls build confidence. Sage Windemaker, a local therapist and social worker who specializes in child and adolescent counseling, leads interactive, and empowering sessions in The Alley for girls and their moms. A new five-session series of “Confidence Unleashed,” which covers topics such as body image, friend troubles, negative thinking, risk taking, etc., is planned for January.
and Still Old-School
As Blake continues to explore social media and marketing strategies for extending the store’s reach, she says, “I’m letting go of my idea of perfection a bit.” She recently hosted a Facebook Live session with a focus on the International Day of the Girl and also created a marketing video. While talking on camera is definitely outside her comfort zone, Blake says she’s getting more comfortable with these things. She even shared a “bloopers” video from the shoot—and she laughs as she talks about how popular the bloopers version has been. It’s very funny, but it’s also very real and relatable. And that’s part of the charming mix of ingredients that makes Penny Lane so special.
Like most small business owners, Blake works hard to provide customers with an experience. When people walk into Penny Lane, they find “a quintessential, old-school store.” Blake loves knowing her customers’ names, finding out what’s going on in their lives, seeing the babies grow. And she loves offering fresh, relevant products that both kids and adults can touch and feel—all of which is lost online and even in big box stores.
I want shopping at Penny Lane
to be accessible to everyone
– SHANNON BLAKE
“I can’t compete with Target or Old Navy on clothing prices, but I can offer a much more enjoyable and personal shopping experience with higher quality and more unique products. I’m conscience of the price points I carry, turning down brands that I feel are priced too high. I want shopping at Penny Lane to be accessible to everyone.” With her carefully edited selection of quality, unique products and fun, community-building events, Blake wants to “cut through the noise and the busyness” so kids can be kids—and parents can be parents.
As she’s found her niche and responded to customer requests, Blake has also been fine-tuning her product line. She’s expanded her apparel line, for example, and now offers clothes for girls through preteen sizes. Blake is grateful for the support of local customers, but one of the challenges she sees for Kennett Square merchants is encouraging people in neighboring communities to discover the great shopping scene here. She’s having fun taking Penny Lane on the road to different pop-up locations, building brand awareness as well as giving back through some charity events. She’s also relaunching the shopping portion of her website. She offers in-store pickup and does everything possible to make it as easy as possible for her busy customers—including packing and wrapping. Every child loves to receive a gift wrapped with colorful tissue in a Penny Lane bag.
A Family Affair
The support of Blake’s family can be seen everywhere at Penny Lane—from the craftsmanship of her father, who built the fixtures and is her handyman, to her daughters’ enthusiastic fashion advice and help running events. She’s thankful for the support of her husband and Lily (10) and Quinn (6), and she’s honest about the struggle for balance. “When it’s your own business, you pour yourself into it and it’s always on your mind. There’s no separation between personal and professional life. That’s the exhausting part. I want the kids to have the best version of me, and I want to be mentally present when I’m with them.”
“Lily and Quinn have far more influence than they realize,” Blake says. “They’re a good barometer.” The girls keep Blake on-trend, make great mini models, and love helping out—especially at the cash register!
Kennett is a place of connection, memories, and strong community ties for Blake. She grew up here, graduated from Unionville High School, and moved back to the area five years ago. “It’s the best of both worlds,” she says, referring to its aesthetic, gorgeous landscape, and proximity to so many places.
I love the friendships with other merchants and I love coming to work in my store every day.
– SHANNON BLAKE
“I’m so happy to be part of this community,” she says. She smiles and glances around this space into which she’s poured heart and soul. “I love the friendships with other merchants and I love coming to work in my store every day.”
We like your style, Penny Lane.
The Most Wonderful Time
of the Year
Blake is ecstatic that the Santa’s Mailbox from Mala Galleria will have a new home at Penny Lane this year. Throughout the month of December, children will be able to post their letters to Santa from 121 West State Street.
Another fantastic idea Blake is implementing this holiday season is a gift registry for kids. Her young customers are always finding things they’d like, and keeping personal wish lists on file at the shop means that family members and friends can come in, select the perfect gift, and rest assured there won’t be any duplication.
“I’m excited about the holiday assortment this year,” Blake says. “We’ll have a huge assortment of stocking stuffers—a good mix of the ‘cheap and cheerful’ and more meaningful, substantial gifts.” The emporium concept is that there’s something for everyone—for infants and toddlers, boys and girls, and preteens.