The idea for Lily’s Mercantile & Makery started when Teresa McMahan wanted a place to display Lily’s, her daughter’s, art. The two also thought it would be exciting to go into business together, and decided to make the leap when a commercial space became available in Paoli. “I’ve always wanted to open a boutique but never wanted to do it by myself,” says Teresa. “So when Lily graduated from high school, she went to MATC, and we started talking about it. Lily enrolled in the small-business entrepreneurship course at MATC, and during that year she started to write a business plan.
“Then this space came up for lease in Paoli, and we live very close. It would’ve been my first choice to have a business in this town. I knew it was a sign and meant to be.” They signed the lease in January 2019 and opened in June. “Lily also graduated in May. It all happened fast and fell into place—perfect timing.”
Lily mainly creates acrylic paintings of horses and farm animals, but also does hand-lettered signs and original pieces, as well as staging merchandise. Teresa handles the finances and jokes that when she does the purchasing, she’ll give it to Lily and say, “Here, make it look good.”
Not the typical farmhouse style you would expect, their boho aesthetic has the vintage farmhouse mixed with southwestern. For those wanting different home décor options than what you find at big-box stores, Lily’s offers a mix of the old with the new. “Adding a vintage piece of furniture into a new home can really add a lot of character,” says Teresa.
Their current location used to be many things—an art gallery, a creamery—and their vision transformed it into a warm, inviting place. Teresa says, “It was just tile walls, and we wondered what we were going to do with the space. My wonderful husband, Lily’s father, built all these barnwood walls, the shiplap walls, the arbor, and put in the front door that wasn’t there before. It was a backroom for storage, so we built on the entryway area. The wood helps to break up the tile and is useful for hanging up décor.”
High ceilings, southwest décor, vintage items, and home goods set against cool, neutral colors are accented by pieces throughout, like rugs made from cow hides, decorated longhorn cow skulls, and other handmade items. The flow of the shop leads you though an impressive display of pillows and blankets, a wall of wide-brimmed varied colored hats, accessories, apparel, kitchen, baby and kids clothes, corner display of Lily’s art, and plenty of options for gifts.
Teresa uses the word eclectic to describe the store, although Lily finds it amusing when she does it. “I think it perfectly describes it, a nice mix,” says Teresa. “Home décor, new and vintage, art, accessories. The Gigi Pip hats, we both love hats, and people love to try out different styles. You can come in here and get something for your kitchen or something to wear out on Saturday night.”
The merchandise is always evolving depending on what people like to buy. “Like with home décor,” says Teresa. “Last year after reopening and people being home more, everybody was sick of looking at their walls, and we couldn’t keep shelves and things to hang on the walls in stock.” Lily likes to see what sells best, whether pieces that have sold well from the beginning or introducing customers to new products.
Teresa recalls visiting Round Top, Texas, for merchandise before they opened. “We had a full trailer and brought it back to Paoli. Recently, we went back to Round Top for our third trip for inventory. We love the south, and we really enjoy traveling for new finds.”
A way to introduce yourself to these finds is to purchase a Happy Day Box. Pick a theme—self-care, kitchen, or home décor—and for $50, a curated box of handpicked items is shipped to you, saving time and receiving functional gifts with a timeless, vintage style.
Daily postings on Facebook, like their Friday finds, showcasing new or favorite items, and a Facebook giveaway of Meet Me in Paoli bags help people find them quicker. Teresa says, “Social media is wonderful, a great way to spread the word. It can take three years for a business to be established and for people to find you.
“Being consistent with postings is huge, especially during the pandemic when we were closed. It was actually a great time to grow a business because we weren’t in the store every day, so we focused on our social media and really promoting Lily’s. And our following group was huge during those months because people were home and coming across our postings. We did a lot of curbside pickup orders with our posts.”
Lily says, “Because of COVID, people wanted to support local businesses more than ever and show that support in the community by purchasing our products. … I never thought that, when I was younger, I would be able to sell the artwork I love doing. Seeing how much I’ve sold from the time we’ve opened and how excited people are to buy the pieces makes me feel good and proud.”
Going into business with family can cause a strain on the relationship; however, Teresa and Lily agree that it’s been a great experience. Lily laughs at the question. “A lot of people ask that, they come in and ask if you are still good with each other, and if you guys still like each other.”
“It’s funny, I didn’t know how it was going to be, but it’s actually been great,” says Teresa. “We each quickly found our strengths and jobs in the store. We kind of do our own thing. It works really well.”
Lily’s reflect the owners’ combined laid-back style with room to grow and showcase their passion for art-inspired pieces. Not pigeonholing themselves into any one style has allowed Lily and Teresa to keep moving forward in providing home and design comforts.
Krystle Engh Naab is a freelance writer and copy editor for Madison Essentials.
Lily’s Mercantile & Makery
6858 Paoli Road
Belleville, WI 53508