Rockford’s Phoenix Traders store celebrates 10th retail anniversary

Staff Report

Phoenix Traders has tackled a big challenge facing small, independent boutique businesses by reaching its 10th anniversary, a feat the owners plan to celebrate with customers Saturday, Nov. 1.

The store, nestled in Rockford’s historic Midtown District at 215 Seventh St., specializes in fair-trade, bohemian-style clothing and accessories, as well as incense, candles and essential/fragrance oils. Items come from markets in India, Nepal, South America and Central America.

Phoenix Traders is owned by the husband-and-wife team of Jim and Janet Phelps. The Loves Park residents had previous business and retail experience when they decided to start the company.

It began as a wholesale importer of goods in 2003 with most of the inventory stored at the couple’s home. They moved the business in 2004 into the Seventh Street storefront and have been there ever since.

Four years into their six-year lease, Jim and Janet bought the building. The space where Phoenix Traders is located was part of the city’s Shopstead program, which aimed to help business owners flourish through affordable rent-to-own deals.

Jim, a fourth-generation entrepreneur, is the past president of the Midtown District and said the eclectic Seventh Street neighborhood helps contribute to the store’s character. Jim is passionate about the Rockford entrepreneur scene and is a member of Rock Valley College’s business advisory board. He also volunteers regionally as an entrepreneurship speaker.

I really think Rockford has a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs,” Jim said. “The opportunity to start and incubate here is fantastic.”

Phoenix Traders started off only using about 800 square feet of space but has added inventory throughout the years to occupy nearly 1,250 square feet of retail area. As consumer trends and tastes have changed, the store has added more women’s accessories, such as sterling silver jewelry, hats and purses.

That’s what we were importing, so the store is more of a showroom now than ever before of what we can buy abroad,” Jim said.

Jim cited tenacity, “stick-to-it-ness,” not surrendering, an unwillingness to fail and putting in a lot of hard work as some of the keys to reaching the 10th anniversary milestone.

A business plan is just a jumping off place,” he said. “You’re going to find out that a lot of your assumptions are wrong, and you’re going to have to change. And you’re going to make some painful mistakes. And you cannot quit. That is the big thing.

Entrepreneurs are very good at loving adversity, loving big challenges,” he added. “I think the people who make good entrepreneurs are people who have had good entrepreneurial role models and people who are really hungry. Very hungry. Because this is not an easy thing to do. It’s terrible at times, but really rewarding, too.”

Phoenix Traders is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays, and closed on Sundays.

The 10th anniversary sale Nov. 1 will feature an in-store giveaway for a $250 shopping spree. Customers can enjoy hot cider and cookies, and all merchandise in the store will be discounted by 25 percent, with special discounts of up to 80 percent for special closeout items. Shoppers can receive an extra 10 percent discount if they bring in their customer appreciation cards.

Call Jim Phelps at (815) 962-4212 for more information.

From the Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2014, issue

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