CABERY, Ill. — At a time when construction costs are high and some building materials are hard to get, rural entrepreneurs are finding creative places to grow their businesses.
Kelli Marsh has converted bins to house various activities for weddings and events at Crooked Creek and Whitetails Estate in Vermilion County, Illinois.
And Kimberly Bouk opened her Bin Boutique in 2020 to sell herbal products she produces on the farm in Cabery, Illinois.
When asked why her business is in a grain bin, Bouk chuckles and says, “I’m cheap.” The bin is an inexpensive structure, and she started small to be sure people would “drive to the middle of nowhere” to buy what she was selling.
A weed and $200
Bouk grew up interested in plants. She gardened and even made her own perfume. But when she found chickweed on her Ford County farm in 2013 and learned its medicinal purposes as a skin salve, everything changed.
She discovered she had a knack for making herbal remedies which were a hit with family and friends, and she wanted to start a business she could run from home and home school her children.
Ironically as the business grew, she worked plenty of nights and weekends. Her children now attend private school and help her with her business when they can.
With only a $200 budget agreed upon with her husband, she made and packaged samples. The shop owner at South Pork Ranch, a little gift shop in Chatsworth, bought them all.
Soon she added more salves and herbal teas to her product line. She started attending farmers markets and pop-up shows in 2014. She participated in 80 such events a year, often staying in a hotel 40 nights annually and building a wholesale market.
By 2019, the popularity of shows “was dying down a bit,” with most of the same vendors and shoppers attending. She started gravitating towards an online business — which turned out to be good timing as COVID-19 hit.
During the pandemic, people started showing up at her home. Sometimes 10 people a week would drop into the garage to see what she was making and to buy things. She and husband Karl converted a grain bin to a store.
“We cleaned it out and gussied it up to make it look cute,” she said.
They brightened it with patio lights and repurposed found and inherited items to add character. The big mirror is from their first bedroom set as a married couple. The counter was her husband’s childhood dining table.
People are also reading…
When she opened the boutique, she added other lines of gifts and clothing which meshes well with her own products.
“I sell what I would buy,” she said.
Future plans include insulating the bin so it is more comfortable year round. Now, the bin boutique gets rather warm on hot days. That means her hours open vary according to the weather. She jokes that it just makes the business seem more exclusive when people have to check online or call to see when she is open, usually on Saturdays.
Bouk also hopes to add a second bin for an artisan grocery and eventually a tearoom.
Kelli Marsh also discovered a grain bin could be a centerpiece for her rural business in Fairmount, Illinois.
In fact, Marsh uses three grain bins at her event center — each for a different purpose. One is the base for caterers, one is for equipment storage, but the third and most special is the “princess palace” used by brides for dressing on their big day.
The bridal bin is easy to find — it’s the one with the balcony and the Cinderella carriage parked outside.
Crooked Creek and Whitetails Estate’s name is a nod to when it was a wildlife hunting preserve. Now it hosts corporate events, parties and weddings.
In this rural area, a grain bin fits in nicely with the atmosphere. And, the price was right.
“It was highly cost effective,” Marsh said of the reason for choosing to use grain bins. A neighbor gifted her a bin and they used another that was on the property.
One of the bins will be a “Grinch house” at Christmas when the estate holds holiday events.
Marsh and her husband have slowly been developing the property over the last 20 years. It includes a scenic pond and a couple of cabins for the weddings.
The venue has grown in popularity, with more than 20 weddings planned for next year already. Marsh holds only one wedding a weekend, with the families often staying three days.
“For me it’s a time for the two families to be together,” she said.