Lee Raynes says she’s got this one. There’s no dampening of her spirits, because the new owner of Bellies & Babies is on a spiritual journey and the pandemic is just a bus stop.
Raynes bought the Del Ray consignment shop from owner Dawn Luepke last fall and took over at the beginning of the year. She had two months of a mild winter’s worth of business before COVID-19 effectively shut down foot traffic along Mount Vernon Avenue and limited the number of customers she could let into the shop.
“I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Raynes told ALXnow. “I have been on a journey of self-discovery for five years now, and it takes a long time to change. It doesn’t just happen.”
Now most of her sales are made on Facebook and Instagram, and she says more than 500 customers have established charge accounts so that they can make impulse buys should any item of interest pop up. She also recently closed the shop during the week except by appointment, and is open on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.
The shop sells children’s toys and clothes at deeply discounted rates. The items are provided by more than 3,000 consigners.
“It’s just whatever people bring me I put out to the world,” Raynes said. “I am just a conduit.”
Raynes wants people to know her story, about how she left her marriage of 20 years, quit her career as the operations manager for a photography company and ventured into a new life. The 42-year-old native of Westchester County, New York, then started her own concierge service (which she hopes to integrate into Bellies & Babies), and now lives within walking distance from her shop with her nine-year-old son.
“I had to do a lot of self-work to figure out what it looks like to fix not being happy, you know? And so I went on a journey of trying anything,” she said. “I tried meditation, I tried acupuncture, lots of yoga, pilates, pretty much anything recommended.”
Raynes added, “A lot of it worked. I am much more spiritual, and I am far less judgmental than I ever used to be. I was unhappy in both my marriage and my work. So, I decided that I couldn’t change both in one year. I separated from my husband and then gave a year’s notice to my work and said, ‘I will train my protege.’ And that’s what I did. I separated from my husband and then I hired somebody to train and then that following year I left that job and decided to look at what I was good at, and what I enjoyed doing.”
One day last year, Raynes walked into Bellies & Babies and started talking to Luepke about the shop, and Luepke asked if she was interested in buying it. Raynes recalls the answer she gave as appreciative, yet unrealistic in tone, as if such a thing would never really happen. But the idea of owning the shop grew in her mind, and Raynes, who also received positive advice from her psychic on the matter, jumped at the chance when Luepke posted a note on social media announcing that she was selling.
“I love being saturated in this neighborhood. This is Del Ray,” Raynes said. “I mean, you can’t name one other place like it, not even Old Town. It’s not the same. I’ve always wanted to live near a city but not in a city.”
Raynes has taken a deep financial hit because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have taken a huge financial hit, and it sucks, but it isn’t gonna break me,” she said. “I look at the other people who were bidding on this company who were putting their life savings on the line. They were going in wholeheartedly and Dawn made the decision that it wasn’t the right fit. I find that fascinating, because had this pandemic hit, and one of those people were the ones that bought it they would be completely wiped out.”
Regardless of the circumstances, she said she’s happy with the decision to buy the shop.
“A lot of people are willing to settle. And I felt like I had settled enough. In my marriage, in my life, in my career. I was done with settling,” Raynes said. “I decided that I was no longer going to be an innocent bystander in my own life. I wanted to choose instead of just let life happen to me.”
In other words, she said that the shop has provided her with a sense of ownership.
“I chose this path, and I will move through it,” she said. “I think, really, sometimes you need a reality check of what is important. And I think that one thing the pandemic has taught us is priorities of what really is important. Is it money? Is it the store? Is it family? Is it friends? Is it the condition of your house? Is the fulfillment in your work? For me, it’s helping my neighbors. What is it for you?”