If you’ve ever taken a walk along Kavanaugh in the heart of Hillcrest, you’ve experienced what the historic neighborhood offers – a gentle pace and a tight community.
That was enough to draw Box Turtle’s Emese Boone to the neighborhood, although she was miles away when she made the decision to finally open up shop.
The desire to be a business owner, though, actually dates back to when Boone was a teenager. “I always wanted to have my own business,” she says, “Originally I wanted to have a ethnic gourmet food store. … My family is Hungarian, so I always loved different foods and foods from other countries.”
Even before that, she and her friends would play a game they called ‘jobs.’ Each would pretend to have a professional career – as a nurse, a restaurant owner, and a banker. That game turned out to be more prophetic than they could have imagined, as Boone says, “We all ended up being what we acted out – it’s so funny.”
Fast forward to 2000, the year that Boone opened Box Turtle. She was actually in Mexico when a friend told her the property on 2616 Kavanaugh was for lease.
Boone wasn’t immediate to react, as she had a job, and everything in her life was stable. But that itch was still there, her dream to own a business, and with her husband’s full support, she decided to go for it.
“Three months later we opened the doors,” she remembers.
Opening a business can be incredibly overwhelming, but Boone was more equipped to be successful than she imagined, thanks to her genes. “My mom was always a hunter and gatherer – she would do flea markets and auctions, and we always had that kind of stuff all over our house. … She was just so good at finding the coolest things,” Boone explains.
And although Boone herself was more into artisan-made products from far away countries, she found that she was also a hunter, and quite the skilled shopper.
Keeping inline with her interest, Box Turtle initially featured items from all over the world. She even chose the name ‘Box Turtle’ to exhibit her interest in faraway lands as she says, “[Box Turtles] are on every continent … and the name just kind of stuck. The turtle is also a symbol of longevity.”
Mirroring the animal’s endurance, the business has proved its staying power. Over the past 15 years, however, the shop has really evolved. The three-story property has rooms for patrons on all levels and currently sells women’s clothes, unique toys, artist-made jewelry, cards, and knick-knacks you just can’t find anywhere else.
Over time, a lot of changes have come from customer requests, and was also driven by the movement to shop local. Boone now hosts a myriad of local artisan jewelry.
She says, “When people started coming in and showing us things that they were making, our jewelry selection really took on a life on its own.” Boone has also sought out local artists, as she says, “I would go to different shows – at the Arkansas Art Center – and find people that I thought were a good fit for us.”
A similar thing happened after her husband convinced her to add clothes to the third level. The addition even lead to the memorable designer fashion shows that were once a part of Hillcrest’s staple autumn festival – HarvestFest.
Nearly sixteen years in the business doesn’t always come easily, but Boone loves what she does. She says, “The customers. I don’t think I knew that that was what I was going to like so much … but I’ve just gotten to know so many people over the years.”
The key to Boone’s success besides having such ample support from her family, friends, work team, and neighborhood, is being able to change with the times. Starting an online market and working social media into her repertoire wasn’t necessarily a thing she loved doing, but she recognized its importance. “We are definitely trying to do it because there’s a whole generation of people that don’t shop in person,” she explains.
Boone herself likes that moment when you finally pick up the perfect item – “I love the find,” she says smiling.
If you haven’t gotten lost in the treasure trove that is Box Turtle, catch them this Thursday at Hillcrest’s First Thursday event. If you can’t make First Thursday, plan to be at the next jewelry trunk show. Find more information here.