Meet a world traveler who’s found business success in following her passion and offering unique items, produced in exotic locations.
Richmond native Ginger Blossom has always had a keen sense of adventure.
In high school, when everyone else was taking a foreign language course only because it was required, Blossom eagerly signed up for French. “I knew I’d be traveling the world,” she says.
Today, Blossom imports unique items from all over the globe, including Turkish and Afghani kilims, Kashmiri chain stitch rugs, glazed and unglazed pottery, ethnic jewelry, clothing and so much more. With a warm smile and easy manner, Blossom runs a retail business under her Hollywood-sounding name, Ginger Blossom, 3016 Illinois Route 173, in Richmond, on the family farm where she grew up.
Customers from Chicagoland and Lake Geneva frequent the destination business, which they learn about while searching for something a little bit different. Although most customers are women, men often enjoy sitting on the store’s front porch as their significant others peruse the merchandise, says Blossom.
“Everyone has something different they’re looking for,” she says. “You can find many of these items elsewhere, but you won’t find as big of a collection in one location.”
Furniture has become 60 percent of her sales, displacing carpets as the biggest seller. “It’s cool stuff for a reasonable price,” she says. “People need dining room and kitchen tables, but they don’t necessarily need a beautiful handwoven rug under the table.”
Blossom has traveled a long and winding road that includes attending college in four states, being a tour guide and working as a ski instructor on three continents. It was her travels in Argentina that led her down this unexpected, but successful, path.
After high school, Blossom attended Carthage, Harper and McHenry County colleges, before earning a ski-resort management degree from Gogebic Community College in Ironwood, Mich. “They kept trying to pin me down to a major,” she says. “I didn’t want to do that.”
In her early 20s, Blossom worked as a tour guide for a bus company, driving guests from coast to coast for low-budget camping trips. She kept in touch with many foreign visitors she met, and eventually visited in Europe. In the 1970s, she and a friend set off on a two-month journey that turned into seven months of hitchhiking, from Scotland, to Yugoslavia, to Greece. “I wouldn’t recommend that today,” she says with a smile.
While working as a ski instructor, Ginger met her husband, Evan Blossom. The couple taught lessons in the U.S. as well as Argentina and Switzerland. “That was amazing,” she says. “You’re skiing at 10,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by brilliant blue skies, big snowfalls and evergreens. We looked at each other and joked, ‘Wow, another bad day at work.’”
Blossom started her importing business while living in Argentina. A brittle economy rendered local currency useless outside of Argentina, so she came up with an idea. “I converted our money into sheepskin bedcovers that I bought from manufacturers in Mendoza, to sell back in the U.S.,” she says. “They were fabulous products and inexpensive to buy. It was a way to make money, and I did well with it.”
For nearly 20 years, until the early 1990s, Blossom lived in New Mexico, where she sold her bedcovers at local flea markets and stores. Her parents, Morris and Ruth Gauger, remained on the family farm in Richmond, where Ruth also sold the bedcovers. Her father ran a motorcycle repair shop on the property. Then, in 1993, tragedy struck: Ruth and Morris Gauger were murdered during a botched armed robbery attempt on the farm.
The Blossoms returned to the family farm permanently, and brought their import business with them. “I always knew that I’d come back home some day, but not under those circumstances,” says Ginger. “My parents were always supportive of me. Sometimes, you don’t have a choice. You deal with the hand you’re dealt. I had a job to do here. This has always been home to me.”
Living with the Blossoms are two Belgian sheepdogs, Tashi and Emmie. They, too, play a role in this relaxing, rural atmosphere. Sometimes city dwellers visit “just to chill,” Blossom says. The Blossoms also sell organic produce from their farmstand, and there’s plenty of space for outdoor yoga classes taught by a local instructor. The farm is open year-round, with three full-time employees and some seasonal help.
Kellie Wilson, the owner of Evolve, a spiritual shop in Crystal Lake, buys wholesale items from Ginger Blossom. Wilson relishes the drive to Richmond whenever life feels a little too hectic.
“It’s a respite for me,” she says. “I walk the grounds, talk to people and just feel fantastic. When I went there the first time, it was love at first sight. Now I often take other people with me, whenever I go.”
Blossom travels out of the country once a year to buy items for her business, usually from January to March or April, and mostly to South America and Southeast Asia. She ships the products back home, in time for the busy spring season.
Buying trips are anything but a vacation. Blossom is up every morning at 5 a.m. and in the villages four hours later. She talks to vendors all day in 90-degree heat. By 5 p.m., she heads back to her hotel for dinner, before roaming the night markets for a few more hours of negotiating. In the morning, she gets up and starts all over again. “I absolutely love it, but it’s exhausting,” she says.
Over the years, Blossom has come to know many people during her buying excursions, from shippers to beggars on the streets. She takes safety seriously – she now avoids car trips through Mexico, and worries about earthquakes in Indonesia. She speaks French, Spanish and Portuguese, but often finds someone who can translate between herself and manufacturers, in countries such as Nepal.
There was a big learning curve for Blossom when she first entered the import business, but experience has become her best teacher. She spends most of her time talking to people, researching items and keeping an eye on what other importers buy and sell. She’s willing to share sources with other buyers, and occasionally writes humorous blogs on her website, detailing her many travels.
“I’m always kicking the tires on something,” says Blossom. “India is doing great furniture again. Indonesia and Thailand are using reclaimed teak wood, recycled fence posts and tires. I’m always learning in this business.”
“I admire Ginger for her business sense – she’s very determined and deliberate,” says Wilson. “She has her customers’ best interests at heart.”
Wilson has purchased numerous items for her store from Blossom, including a gong from Thailand, moonstone gems from Burma and a teak bench placed outside her store.
“Ginger has such a beautiful way of sharing the gift of the world with such grace and passion,” she says. “She’s not only able to connect with people around the world, but she’s able to bring those feelings back to us. She told me a story about the man who created my bench. He was born in a country that had no record of him at all. But he is always dependable and someone Ginger can count on. We sometimes forget the number of hands that work on things we use. We can feel that energy through Ginger’s work and her travels.”
Blossom deflects any praise for her part in this extraordinary work.
“The most important thing for me is just to know that I’ve made a difference in the lives of the people I buy from,” she says. “For me, that’s what this is all about.”