It’s hard not to smile when you peruse the many unique, locally-sourced and handmade gifts at Booth 121, a specialty retail store on Monona Drive on Madison’s east side. From clothing and accessories to candles and other home decor, Booth 121 truly has something for everyone. Including the kids!
What makes this store so much fun is not just the one-of-a-kind items they sell, but the fact that so many come with a side of snark and sass – just like the store’s two owners, Leah Robertson and Rebecca Robertson Aide.
I initially met both of these women many years ago, each through different mutual friends. However, I never pieced together the fact that they are related (by marriage), until one day when I walked in the store and saw them both working at the same time.
As it turns out, these two fun-loving and creative gals are sisters-in-law, which makes Booth 121, not just a local business, but also a family one.
Since I drive by the colorful store every day on my commute to and from work, I wanted to learn more about how these two got into business together, along with the shop itself.
Tell us a little bit about your backgrounds…what lead the two of you to open a specialty retail store?
LEAH: I worked at Dean Health for 17 years, but decided to leave that job security behind in order to follow my passion.
I sold furniture and home decor in a variety of places first – craft fairs, online and in other shops, just to name a few. I also had a warehouse in Cottage Grove that I used as a space to create and would occasionally open it up for people to shop. Opening a brick and mortar store was just taking that to the next level.
REBECCA: I went to UW-Whitewater for Business. When my son was born, I left the corporate world behind so I could focus on him. Once he started school, I needed something else to focus on, so I decided to go into business with Leah.
What makes Booth 121 unique? What is uniquely different about your business that sets you apart from other specialty stores in the area?
REBECCA: The number of local artists that we have in one spot is unique in and of itself. As are the gifts that we offer. We are big fans of sweary/snarky things, so we recognize that not all of our items are for everyone – but we are certainly the place for people that do like it! We have been happily surprised by how many other people like snarky/sweary things too.
You also support other local businesses and crafters throughout the State of Wisconsin at Booth 121. Tell us about your sourcing process. How do you find items to feature in the store?
LEAH: We started with 14 artists that I had previously worked with or met on the craft market circuit. After we opened and had a better feel for our space, we began reaching out to local artists that offered something that we felt was missing from our inventory.
We currently work with about 106 local artists and field multiple inquires about new makers on a regular basis. It’s pretty cool.
Who is your target customer? What is the current customer demographic?
REBECCA: Our customers are overwhelmingly women ranging in age from 30-60, although people of all ages love to come in and laugh at our inappropriate sense of humor. We have had more than a couple of visits by groups from local senior centers.
Tell us the story behind the name…how did you come up with Booth 121?
LEAH: For awhile, I was working in an antique mall sharing a space with a friend that sold antique fishing lures. We really struggled to come up with a name that was applicable to both of our businesses. Since we honestly could not come up with anything, we just decided to use our booth number in the mall. Which was 121.
When we opened in Monona on November 7, 2015, we decided to keep the name since I had an established following by then.
So, the two of you are sisters-in-law…Tell us what that working relationship is like.
REBECCA: Yep. Leah married my brother. When we decided to go into business together it caused some anxiety within the family. However, she and I were never worried about it!
We recognize each other’s strengths and really respect each other. We also don’t let work stuff interfere with family stuff.
LEAH: In fact, we have honestly had so much fun working together, that our other sister-in-law, Alisa, and niece, Emma, had to join in on the fun too! The two of them operate LOV Boutique inside of Booth 121, which features a great range of women’s clothing and accessories.
On top of the business, you are also both moms. Tell us about your kids. How do you both balance running a store and parenting?
LEAH: We both have sons. Mine is in Kindergarten and Rebecca’s is in 5th grade. In all honesty, we work together to make sure the kids are covered, along with field trips and other school functions which are priorities for both of us.
REBECCA: That’s how we do it. We make it all happen by working together.
What roles, if any, do your partners play in this process?
LEAH: Both of our husbands are instrumental in helping juggle the kids. Plus, mine is pretty handy around the shop. And thankfully, he enjoys coming in to help out! We couldn’t do it all without them.
Any upcoming events readers should look forward to?
REBECCA: Yes! This weekend actually. We are participating in the annual spring Vintage Shop Hop happening all over Wisconsin and Illinois, March 6th and 7th. There are over 400 shops in 165 towns across both states participating!
And just for fun, what are a few of your favorite items in store?
LEAH: OMG, there are just so many favorites! The gnomes are big for sure. And the blankets by Home Sewn are amazing. Plus LOV Boutique has beautiful clothes. It’s hard to pick just a few!
The next time you are looking for a special gift for a loved one (or yourself), be sure to check out Booth 121 and support this gem of a local business.
Thanks to Leah and Rebecca for the interview!