For more than three years Paula Gillman opened her front door, invited her friends in and shared conversation and laughter. Sometimes her friends stayed for dinner.
As dear as the friendships have been, it has not always been financially profitable.
So the doors are now closing. Paula Gillman & Co. on Herlong Avenue is going out of business. Everything is for sale and friends and customers are advised, "get it now, it may not be here tomorrow."
Her announcement last week sent ripples through our community. E-mails were exchanged. The closing was discussed over lunch at the City Club during the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp.'s annual retreat.
Gillman's was special, people said. You did not have to travel to Charlotte for specialty cookware, utensils and kitchen gadgets.
While each item had a price, there was no charge for the advice, which was freely offered. Customer service came first, Gillman said. There are multiple places you can find the kitchen items, she said, but fewer places that put customers first.
Sometimes the customer was a bride completing her registry. Or, it was someone who did not quite know what they wanted while eying expensive items, believing bigger would make them better cooks.
"We helped our customers, determined what they needed and met that need," she said. That didn't always mean they left with the most expensive items, Gillman added.
Sometimes it was just listening. Gillman fondly remembers the calls she got from desperate cooks in the middle of a recipe, seeking help.
It was the relationship that Gillman cultivated. She wanted it from the start. She poured her heart, soul and capital into the business. She worked 60 hours a week. As business improved she hired help, at one time having seven employees. She now has four.
She opened the store because she thought Rock Hill was ready to move beyond the meat-and-potatoes, mill-town fare. She held evening cooking classes to expand tastes and cultivate business.
She opened the store because she was ready, too.
Gillman had been a retail buyer for Dillard's and Belk. She took time off to be a stay-at-home mom for her daughter, Amanda.
When her daughter got older, she wanted to return to retail. She combined it with her love of cooking and opened Paula Gillman & Co., just east of the Piedmont Medical Center complex.
The business became "an extension of me, my family," Gillman said. "I'm very proud of this," Gillman said. "Proud of what we stood for."
The store also became a life lesson for her family.
Amanda, 11, was as skilled as any worker on the cash register, said her mom. She also learned the valuable lesson of working hard.
Foremost, her mother said, she learned, "do what you believe in and take risks."
Like so many other businesses, business dried up the longer the recession lingered. Unemployment rates near 20 percent did not help. People adjusted their budgets.
"People are reluctant to spend," she said.
"I can't survive in these economic times," Gillman said. "I can't justify continuing."
She wonders if there should not be more help for struggling, small businesses. After all, they are the backbone of the community. Maybe there could be a stimulus help.
If there is, it will come too late for Gillman. She anticipates closing her doors in a couple of weeks. Now that she has announced she is going out of business, "items are flying out the door."
She ends this endeavor with no regrets. She is ready to move, she is not just sure to what or where.
So for now, the doors are still open. The conversation and laughter still flow. There are no more dinners. Cheerful tears have replaced dining.