I Create Birmingham: Jay Draper and Mark Thompson
“I’m proud of what we represent in our community. I love to look around on Saturdays when we are busy and see customers of all different ages, races, and backgrounds enjoying the shop. There’s something about nature that brings people together, and we have the opportunity to be a welcoming presence.”
Happy February! Love is in the air this month, and we are sharing stories of the creative partnerships of some of Birmingham’s favorite couples. Stay tuned as this month’s interviewees talk about how they inspire one another, the challenges and perks of working and living together, and the goals they hope to accomplish. We think you’ll fall for them as much as we have.
Perched above Clairmont Avenue in an oasis of blooms sits Shoppe, the brainchild of partners Jay Draper and Mark Thompson. Opened in late 2017, the impeccably curated plant and gift shop has already become a beloved mainstay of its Forest Park neighborhood. As Jay and Mark sip their morning coffee on the front stoop, neighbors stop in to chat or ooh-and-ahh over the artfully displayed foliage. In between waves to the passersby, the pair share how they balance home and work as a couple and as colleagues.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did the two of you meet?
Jay: I was working at Sweet Peas Garden Shop in Homewood. Mark came in one day looking for oxalis, and the rest is history.
Mark: At that time, I was the visual director for Anthropologie, and I needed clover for a display. I didn’t know that oxalis and clover were essentially the same thing. It sparked a conversation.
So you were both working in fields that translated into what you do now. Was owning a business, particularly a gardening shop, something you had both imagined? How did you decide to make the leap?
Jay: Owning my own business was definitely a goal for me. I had worked in garden shops since I was 14 years old, and I love studying the science of plants. Birmingham is unique in that just about every neighborhood has its own special plant shop with its own aesthetic, but Forest Park didn’t. Mark and I talked about opening up our own store pretty early on in our relationship, and when we found this space, it felt like the right time.
Mark: I always had a natural interest in plants. When I was young, I would ask a lot of questions, and some of the older ladies I knew would give me plants. If they did well, I’d split them up and give them to others. I’m not as studious as Jay is; I just go on what works for me or appeals to me visually. I pursued design at the Art Institute of Atlanta and was able to hone my craft of visual display there at a very early age, in some of the most amazing homes I’d ever seen. It expanded my horizons and elevated my taste and design vocabulary. I’d dreamed of opening my own store, but over time I got burned out and sort of lost the dream. Jay revived that in me. He was truly the catalyst in making Shoppe happen.
How do you balance your personal and professional lives together?
Jay: It can be a challenge not to work too much. We live down the street from the store and we’ve often stayed late. We’re both work-oriented, so even our conversations away from the shop tend to revolve around our business, but we love what we do.
Mark: It’s our baby, so we want to talk about it! But for every fun goal there is to dream of or work toward, we also have to have tough discussions about systems, relationships, budgets, and the ins and outs of being new business owners. We try to schedule time off, separately and together, to take care of other parts of our lives and maintain balance at work and at home.
What are you most proud of with this venture and with what you’ve been able to accomplish together?
Mark: I think my favorite thing is experiencing the childhood dream I’d abandoned become a reality. I’ve always worked in a creative field, and I am not as adept with the business side of things as Jay is, but I’m there to listen and offer pep talks, and we are learning together. I’m excited to offer an array of beautiful items that are affordable and accessible to our customers. Good design and good value are important to us.
Jay: I’m proud of what we represent in our community. I love to look around on Saturdays when we are busy and see customers of all different ages, races, and backgrounds enjoying the shop. There’s something about nature that brings people together, and we have the opportunity to be a welcoming presence.
Interview by Tonia Trotter
Photos by Ambre Amari