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Take Heart

A Curation of Discovery

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The story told through her carefully selected goods is one to elevate the joy and wonder of being human.

__Nina Gordon

This story is not just about a shop and it’s owner. It’s about finding the kind of art that’s right for you. If we repeat ourselves on anything, I’m proud that it’s to say that everyone is creative. Even when we reject our own potential, it is clear to me that the human spirit is in and of itself, inherently creative. Embracing and exploring that inescapable truth leads to all sorts of thrilling discoveries, ones that often change the trajectory of an entire life.

The artist we introduce today is of an entirely different sort than you might expect when I use the word “artist.” Collage artist, maybe, or interior designer could begin to describe her, but at the heart of it, she’s just a woman, exceptionally intune with her own good taste, and brave enough to share it with the world. This, friends, is a curator.

When she first began take heart, Nina Gordon was a licensed, practicing social worker in Austin, Texas. While she loved her career and believed deeply in the services she offered her clients, she found herself growing discontent with the scope of her influence, and honestly, burned out. Like so many of the tender-hearted in her field, Nina spent years giving her wisdom, influence, and energy for the betterment of individuals who could never repay her, for the hope of a brighter community. But in the mind’s eye of her heart was a vision for a new way of supporting the human spirit, connecting and uplifting those she came in contact with in a different way than ever before. From that vision, her now thriving storefront in Austin’s emerging Eastside fulfills that evolving desire to encourage the community around her.

One catalyst to launching take heart was a book entitled The Artist’s Way, a twelve week course book of soul-searching guidance. Each week for twelve weeks, she adhered to the book’s instruction, performing exercises that promoted natural artistic expression, and a hefty amount of writing. One such exercise was to make a list of what her dream jobs might be, if education, age, money – and all of those things that we say keep us from our ideal career – were irrelevant. The challenge to pen an answer took her back to childhood, long before she chose her career.

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“I feel like I went into social work for practical reasons. I thought, this is a solid job. And I didn’t really think of myself as a creative person.” But what she noticed from compiling the list was that all her memorable dream jobs from childhood were creative ones. Fashion designer, interior designer, …shop owner. It was a revelation, and not one that she took lightly. As an added perk, opening a shop didn’t require a specialized degree or several years back in the classroom. Instead, she signed up for a single business class and began familiarizing herself with the basics of opening up her own shop. In the end, all that was left to do was overcome the fear of it all.

The business class she invested in proved to be a pivotal point in her story of take heart’s beginning. First of all, her teacher helped her write a business plan for the shop alongside her coursework. The organization responsible for the class then decided to partner with a local credit union to host a competition. The competition would reward the best business plan and presentation with a sizable small business loan, with no interest for seven years. With the plan she’d written in her class, Nina won the loan! To open the shop at all she knew that she would have to borrow money, but with the winnings from the competition – most importantly, no interest – it was practically like being given money to open the shop. Little could stop her after that.

Even with the healthy boost in financial support, the custom built wooden cabinets lining the shop’s interior started out fairly sparse. But as Nina says, “You just have to get it started. It’s going to be imperfect, and you just learn as you go.”

Austin’s fondness for handmade anything makes first time finders gaga when they walk in the door. Partially hidden by the sheer reflectivity of it’s street-facing clear glass walls, it feels like you’ve entered a hidden treasure. Positioned next to one of Austin’s finest cafe’s, The Blue Dahlia, take heart is often happened upon by unsuspecting pedestrians on their way to and from brunch, or a coffee. But the real reason take heart took root in East Austin wasn’t the foot traffic of a radically expanding neighborhood; it was an inexplicable part of her plan all along.

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Now an emerging part of Austin’s downtown culture, it wasn’t always the safest place to be. But even before the idea to open a shop had begun to take shape, Nina – a thirteen-year Austin resident – had lived twelve years on the Eastside, and had a feeling about that neighborhood, specifically the street she now watches from inside the shop everyday. “I knew I wanted a business on this street. It was very bizarre. Before this street [became what it is now], I liked the feel of it. I think I could feel the potential.” When the space first opened up, she was attending yoga at one of the few businesses that had popped up nearby, and happened to be just across the street from the glass-walled room. Only slightly premature to receiving her business loan, but full of faith, she knew it belonged to her.

With little marketing to speak of, the shop has steadily grown since it’s opening, enough to evoke momentous changes for Nina in the upcoming year. Up until this point, she’s done what she could do with the time she has. Working half-time at her job as a social worker and preparing for busy seasons in the shop has prompted a bigger risk than ever before: leaving her day job. While confident it’s the right thing for her, the nerves never really go away.

One major reason for the transition into full-time shopkeep is the holiday season. When we met Nina, take heart had just been through it’s Christmas sales, and had done incredibly well. But the hitch in preparing for each holiday, she says, is the human factor. Because so many of her items are lovingly handmade in different parts of the world, she has to prepare for someone else’s timeframe of production. Her own creative stake is building a schedule and a plan that prepares the shop to perform at it’s best during those busy seasons. “Creating things takes people time,” she empathizes. Creating the shop into what it can be means that Nina is always fighting for time – time to plan, and time to search for new loveliness to plant in her garden of goodness.

In talking with Nina, I understood that in a way, her whole life has been lived unto others, deeply sacrificial to both her family and strangers on the job. The resolution to take on her dream job full-time feels like a liberation. When it’s all said and done, it isn’t all that treacherous – sales and popularity in the community have been incrementally climbing since the doors opened. And guarding one’s heart, committing to tending this thriving atmosphere of connection and peace might be one of the most responsible job moves I’ve ever heard of.

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If I was trying to sell you on just how much we love this shop, all I would have to do is take you inside. And I would if I had the chance. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything (but who are we kidding – you will buy something), the collection of pristine ceramics alone will be bewitch any sane intention like, “Do I really need another mug?” The answer is no, but YES, I believe I will take that little beauty home with me. That’s us anyway. For you it might be that you didn’t necessarily need a baby gift for that couple with a newborn who lives in your neighborhood, but what the hay? These gingerly crafted organic cotton bibs can’t just sit there alone! They should be worn! Or maybe you’re a sucker for a beautiful greeting card like I am. A six foot stretch of lovely words you never had to send await, nudging the old-fashion letter writer in you. With an array of Japanese and American illustrators represented, you can’t look away from their delicate sweetness. They beg to be the couriers of your impulsive, or deliberate good will towards men.

Aside from all of the beautiful items I wanted to make mine, what inspired me most about take heart was that is stood for more than selling extraordinary goods. It is yet another example to those of us struggling with justifying our dream job yearnings. Nina’s willingness to repent of selling her own personal creative gifts short is an encouragement many of us are still waiting to believe about ourselves. Believing in your owns gifts cannot be underestimated; the very act of belief is one of the strongest powers we humans possess. At it’s core, take heart is the actualization of what Nina herself has spent a lifetime learning: from taking the “responsible” route early on, to finding that the risky road is a lot less dangerous than it looks.

The shop itself is a stage upon which Nina commends the strength, dignity, and resilience she’s seen in others, those who’ve inspired her, and as the occasions appear, uses her platform to exhort and embolden her customers. The story she tells through her curation of goods, each more alluring than the next, is one that elevates the joy and wonderment available to those who will seek it.

 

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