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Mole Hole glad to be back in spotlight

Marty Medlin was stunned: The notice said she had three months to vacate the space.

She’d run her specialty gift shop franchise, The Mole Hole, for 25 years in that spot, beside the Talbots on Morrison Boulevard in SouthPark.

But when Talbots, an anchor store for the retail center Specialty Shops on the Park, needed to expand, The Mole Hole occupied the spot they needed. Left with no choice, in 2003, Medlin sold off her inventory, closed up shop and put her displays in a storage unit.

“I had no place to go,” Medlin recalls. “It was a whole new ballgame.”

Closed door, new opportunity: The vacation Medlin, then 51, never asked for was a stressful one. Her daughter was almost college-age. And her livelihood for the majority of her professional career was now thrown in limbo.

“It wasn’t all peaches and cream for me,” said Medlin. “There was a lot of praying going on.”

But Medlin didn’t give up. She kept going to market. She started scoping out potential spots. And to float her financially for a little while, she opened a booth in a multimerchant retailer in Matthews, where she continued to sell Vera Bradley bags, one of her best-selling items at the time.

She wanted to stay in the SouthPark area, where many of her loyal shoppers lived, but nothing in the immediate vicinity was available. Then she heard about Colony Place, a new shopping center going in at the corner of Colony and Rea roads. Medlin jumped on it.

Reconnecting with customers: Medlin reopened her Mole Hole shop in November 2003, just three miles from where her old store was. But she found that many former customers didn’t venture out of their bubble. Even more just assumed that Medlin’s Mole Hole had just gone out of business.

So to raise her store’s profile again, Medlin sent letters to her old customers. She bought ads in the newspaper and local magazines. And she hosted a well-attended grand opening.

“But even with the success of that first open house, it was still hard,” she says. It took a good three years to start to feel comfortable again.

She helped the process along by hosting more events with special promotions, such as barbecues and wine-and-cheese afternoons, a strategy she rarely had to employ at her previous spot.

Last weekend, she hosted her annual “high tea,” where customers don old-fashioned hats, eat cookies and crumpets and get 20 percent off one item. Her last event brought 50 people in the store.

A steady evolution: Medlin says customer service helped her re-establish herself. Her employees know customers by name. They remember their favorite items. And they always offer gift-wrapping.

Charlotte pediatrician Laramie Williams was at the store one afternoon last week. She says the employees know her grown children by name.

“When I come in they ask me first thing, ‘How are Dalton and Savannah?’ ” Williams says. “How many places do you go in where that happens?”

Though the Mole Hole name is a franchise, Medlin says the founder, now deceased, always let them run their shops the way they wanted to. So Medlin she has evolved to survive.

That meant swapping out once-popular collectibles and lines when the sales started slowing. A couple years ago, she phased out Vera Bradley bags after 28 years of selling them. And where they once displayed a number of prints and home furnishings, Medlin’s Mole Hole now features more jewelry and speciality cards.

Now her daughter, Merritt Rea – a 27-year-old stylist with her own business – is even introducing a small section of clothes in her mothers store.

“You’re always trying to evolve and change. That’s part of the gamble of being a retailer,” Medlin says. “We keep on a-ticking. ”

And 10 years after a potentially career-ending road bump, Medlin says the view, for now, looks nice.

McMillan: 704-358-6045
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