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From Marketing Executive to Stationery Store Owner—Chandra Greer, 49

Know when to fold 'em: I was an executive at an ad firm, and I felt as if the space between who I was and who I had to be for my career was huge. In 1997 I quit with no idea what to do next. I spent several weeks in despair, convinced I'd ruined my life. Then I went shopping. I was drawn to paper stores, places that sold all the things you needed to make greeting cards or little books.

Put your stamp on things: I started making my own cards because they're such a positive product. You send them to make people feel better. When I took my designs to retailers, I was rejected. I knew I needed my own place. In 1998 I opened Greer in a tiny space in a wealthy suburb north of Chicago, with money my husband and I had saved up.

Play your cards right: The store did well enough, but my taste wasn't completely resonating with my suburban customers. My sales weren't as good as they could be, and the people who were buying had come up from the city. Obviously, I needed to move downtown—but Chicago has a lot of great stationery stores, and rents aren't cheap. Still, in 2005, I did it. My sales went right up. We started getting press, which generated even more business. Today we sell stationery and paper goods as well as soaps, pillows, vintage scarf button pins, even a little book called George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour. I should never have been in business anywhere else.
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