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How a small-town boutique in Illinois is bringing hope to a dwindling downtown

After 3 years of online-only sales, Daisy Bliss opened in downtown Aledo, where empty windows and 'For Sale' signs dot all too many storefronts.

ALEDO, Ill. — Daisy Bliss celebrated its grand opening in Aledo, marking the first time the boutique had a brick and mortar storefront since it was founded in 2018. The decision to run the shop in Aledo is bringing excitement, and hope for future investments. 

The store offers women's clothing and accessories, along with a few children's items. Daisy Bliss is located at 110 E Main St, Aledo, and is open Thursdays through Saturdays, with eventual Sunday hours planned for October. 

Inside, rows of hangers, with carefully curated dresses, jackets, shackets, and blouses, dangle from homemade display racks. Jewel-toned hats line the walls, and a mix of dainty and chunky gold necklaces lay draped on the front table. 

For owner Monica McCleary, it's a dream nearly a lifetime in the making. 

"I always knew I was gonna have a store," she said, reminiscing about her younger years, sorting and selling her Halloween candy. "The opportunity came, this was available, and we just went for it."

McCleary began Daisy Bliss as an online-only store in 2018. With two toddlers at home, she said it was the best way to balance her budding business, and her family. 

But then the pandemic hit. 

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The online shopping boom that the Covid-19 outbreak perpetuated hit McCleary's store hard, in the best way. Sales from 2019 to 2020 increased by 70% and McCleary has a long list of items she just couldn't restock fast enough.

"We definitely took off way quicker than we thought we would," she laughed. 

Then, she attended Aledo's Rhubarb Fest as a vendor. Before her booth was even open for the day, she said people were trying to shop. 

"I know there's a lot of traffic with the Rhubarb Fest, but a lot of customers were from the area. They saw me live in [Daisy Bliss's] Facebook group and showed up," she said. "The fact that they left their homes to come see our brand made me feel like we did need to have a spot here permanently." 

Eventually, her current landlords talked her into buying a new storefront in Aledo. And after a whirlwind three weeks, she was busy celebrating her grand opening. 

While McCleary's path to a brick and mortar may not be the traditional route we usually think of, she said building an online fanbase first, was the backing she needed to eventually pursue a storefront. 

"In this day and age, that is kind of the way you want to go when you are opening a business: starting online, getting that presence, building your brand," she said. "That's always been our thought on opening a brick and mortar. Why would we open a store when we have nobody that's going to come? Then you'd have all of that overhead when there's nobody stepping foot into your space and you're not online." 

And her new location in downtown Aledo is also drawing attention. The town of just over 4,000 residents has seen commerce dwindle over the last few years. A walk down Main St. is dotted with empty storefronts, blackened windows and 'For Sale' signs. 

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McCleary said the prospect of opening her store in the area was scary, but ultimately, the perfect fit. 

"We get to be the first ones. And we hope to see more people do this," she said. "By me taking this leap of faith, we hope other businesses that are small, like me, do the same." 

It's a sentiment Pam Myers couldn't be more excited about. Myers has owned a heating-cooling business in Aledo for 38 years, and says the new store can only mean good things. 

"It's encouraging. I look at it as a domino. When one starts, others will come, and it comes like a mushroom effect," she said. 

Born and raised in Aledo, Myers says she served as the Main Street Director for a decade, and will always cheer on new ideas and investments. 

"And the uniqueness of a boutique is wonderful," she told News 8. "It's the customer service and knowing your name when you walk in and a getaway - especially after everything we've been through - that people are looking for." 

McCleary says she also saw a need to provide fashionable, trendy clothes for women around Aledo. 

"In this area, we don't have a lot of shopping for the younger crowd," she noted. "I just love empowering women and seeing all different kinds of body types modeling our stuff." 

As she put the finishing touches on her inventory and grand opening celebrations, McCleary told us about how her family had always gone to the Quad Cities to find the style of clothing they were interested in. 

"Because there is just not a lot around here. However, we feel like we need to bring this back to life. We feel like we need to be here," she said. "We hope this can help businesses and this main street come back to life." 

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