By Lee Noles
MONROE – Shellee Comer began Silver Lining Boutique with nothing more than her entrepreneurial spirit, friendly demeanor and never-quit attitude as she went around Union County selling an assortment of products from her car.
Her business grew to include a 2,500-square-foot building, five employees and close to 10,000 Facebook followers who anxiously waited for the shabby chic clothing, jewelry and accessories the store offered.
But in December, Comer knew the time was right to retire and found the perfect buyer for the store she’d shaped for more than 20 years in friend and longtime patron Jennifer Hill.
“I never really have stopped and taken a chance to look back on things,” Comer said. “I started in my car, but I was always thinking about the next thing. How can we get bigger and better? Now, looking back, I can say I lived the American Dream.”
The dream began in 1998 when Comer was driving to businesses and friends’ homes selling sterling silver jewelry. A move a few years later to a 400-square-foot building near Walkup Avenue gave the business a structural foundation, but Comer was still figuring out its concept.
“I really didn’t have a business plan,” Comer said. “I just knew I liked what I was doing, and I went with what I felt was right.”
The sterling silver was selling, but the business experienced significant growth in popularity when Comer added items from Pandora as part of her inventory.
“That was a game-changer,” said Comer, who moved into a larger store off U.S. 74 around the same time. “People really liked buying those items.”
Things only got better as Comer made the switch to Main Street Monroe before moving to the store’s current location six years ago. The former hardware store on Hayne Street has been modernized to include chandeliers while maintaining concrete floors that are surrounded by the Bohemian decorum.
“This is the best location I ever had,” Comer said. “At first, I thought I had to be on Main Street. But it gave me more room to expand. It’s a very eclectic location. … It has just been great.”
It was a perfect place that was going to be empty. Comer decided she was closing the store instead of selling to anyone who she felt wasn’t going to maintain the Silver Lining reputation she developed. Her thoughts changed when Hill and her husband, Phil, approached her around Christmas with an interest in buying the place. Comer and Hill have known each other for 30 years and even sang in the church choir together. Hill reopened the store Jan. 2.
“I didn’t want to see it go away,” Hill said. “For the last 10 years, I said to Shellee, ‘If you want to sell, let me know.’ And then I saw she was retiring, so I called her up and said, ‘What’s up.”
Hill plans on keeping many of the items already at the store while adding a few new ones. She also has brought all the employees who worked with Comer back to help. Emmie Cook has worked at Silver Lining since last year and is glad to see it stay open.
“I have always wanted to work here,” Cook said. “And when I was able to, it was like being on cloud nine.”
Comer’s next adventure involves the 1969 Airstream she bought a few years back with her husband, Terry. They initially turned the vehicle into a mobile store equipped with a changing room and clothing racks for items sold at Silver Lining.
The Airstream is now being used for the antiques and redone furniture Comer has collected through the years. She intends to sell them at markets in Greensboro and Virginia and at the annual Pop-Up event in Monroe this spring.
“I’ve always liked vintage stuff,” Comer said. “I have about 18 years of accumulated stuff I have gotten at different places around the area.”
What has been hard for Comer is ending her connection with Silver Lining.
Comer told a story about getting an email from a customer a few days after she retired about something the store was selling. Without thinking, Comer emailed them to try and help find what they needed.
“’Oh, dang,” Comer said after realizing she’s no longer the owner. “Sorry. What can I say? It’s a habit.”