Finding treasures, and a unique experience, on Small Business Saturday

Leslie Renken
Jewelry artist and small business owner Randy Reliford talks with a customer about some custom design work on a ring Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019 at Vena Fine Jewelry, 119-B N. Parkway Drive in Pekin. [MATT DAYHOFF/JOURNAL STAR]

PEORIA — A light drizzle didn’t stop central Illinois residents from shopping local on Small Business Saturday.

Vena Fine Jewelry in Pekin, which had advertised a number of specials for Small Business Saturday on its Facebook page, was quite busy. A crowd filled the store most of the morning, and a brief lunch-time lull ended with a handful of customers showing up in the afternoon.

“Today has been pretty good. In general it’s been kind of slow this year, but today has been a good day,” said goldsmith Randy Reliford, a co-owner of the business.

Reliford and his business partner Michelle Ball, who is also a goldsmith, started Vena Fine Jewelry in 1996 with the goal of making beautiful things.

“The almighty dollar isn’t why we are in business,” said Reliford. “The goal is to be creative and do unusual things, and hopefully make a living at the same time.”

In an age when most everything is mass-produced, Vena Fine Jewelry gives customers something rare — old world craftsmanship made exclusively in central Illinois.

“We have a lot of repeat customers because they want something they don’t see anywhere else, something very individual to them,” said Ball.

Reliford does things most jewelers don’t, including hand engraving and gemstone cutting.

“Lately he’s been going crazy over this gemstone made from Mount St. Helen’s volcanic ash,” said Ball. “We can get the rough stone in a bright grass green and a really pretty blue-green, and Randy cuts it. He loves to create his own facet patterns.”

Another unique product created at Vena are tiny boxes wrought from gold or silver with lids made from gemstone cabochons.

“I haven’t seen anybody else do them,” said Ball. “Randy has taken old-world engraving and craftsmanship and carving and turned them into these amazing little boxes.”

In addition to getting something totally unique, people who buy from Vena Fine Jewelry support the four central Illinois residents who work there, and keep money in the local economy. For every dollar spent at a locally owned business in central Illinois, 67 cents stays in the community, according to statistics provided by American Express’s Shop Small campaign. The results are so profound communities across the nation have launched campaigns to encourage people to shop at local businesses. In central Illinois the effort is called Shop Local 365.

“I think we’ve noticed an increase in business since Shop Local 365 started bringing the issue to the forefront,” said Angie Walker while standing behind the counter at Urban Artifacts in Peoria Saturday afternoon. “I think it’s increased awareness a lot — helped people make the connection that it’s not just about buying stuff. You can impact the community.”

Urban Artifacts was fairly busy Saturday. Customers wandered through the aisles, peering at an eclectic selection of used and antique items, from giant store signs to a vintage nativity sets.

“That is the exact set we had when I was growing up,” said a young female customer while peering at a creche.

At the adjacent Sunbeam Building, which is also owned by Walker and her husband Jon Walker, artists and entrepreneurs were on hand to sell their unique goods. Guitarist John Miller played Christmas tunes while the scent of sugar cookies wafted out of Roylt Scents, a shop featuring locally-made candles. A few steps away Christmas decorations covered every surface at Restoration.

“We’ve been decorating for six weeks,” said Restoration co-owner Lori Mabee while standing behind the checkout counter.

Business was good Saturday, but black Friday was even better, a fact which surprised Mabee.

“Typically people go check out all the specials at the big box stores on Black Friday,” she said. “But business here was really good. I was excited.”

While a trip to the Sunbeam building can lead to the discovery of unique treasures, it’s also an experience. In addition to wandering through the small shops, visitors can spend an hour in Escape 60 and have an interactive adventure with friends solving puzzles, decoding messages and uncovering clues to help save the world. Or they can wander back to Jeremie Draper’s glassblowing studio and make a Christmas ornament, which is what Kathi Harmon did with her sister and mother on Saturday.

The sisters shot video as their mother, Clarice Blout, blew into a rubber tube to inflate a blob of molten glass manipulated by Draper.

“And now you can stop — beautiful! You did a great job,” said Draper to a grinning Blout. When she came back to sit with her daughters, it was clear Blout was having way more fun than if they had just gone shopping.

Harmon has taken classes at Draper’s studio three times, bringing along someone new each time. The first class was two years ago when she made a paperweight with her niece.

“It’s just fun to have something local — and different — to do,” she said.

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or Follow her on, and subscribe to her on