2 dreams, 2 new business owners


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    The first thing customers see as they walk through Courtney Cowan’s milk and cookie shop.

    - Denise-Marie Guerra / Marketplace

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    Milk Jar Cookies also sells ice cream from local vendors to go with their cookies.

    - Denise-Marie Guerra / Marketplace

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    Marketplace’s Adriene Hill with Milk Jar Cookies founder Courtney Cowan.

    - Denise-Marie Guerra / Marketplace

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    Rocky Road Cookies on display at Courtney Cowan’s Store.

    - Denise-Marie Guerra / Marketplace

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    From the vintage silverware to the finishing details. Cowan was particular that the store felt homey and inviting.

    - Denise-Marie Guerra / Marketplace

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    Christine Johnson opened her shop in March 2013 where she handpicked toys that were eco-and –developmentally friendly.

    - Denise-Marie Guerra / Marketplace

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    A view from the store’s play area as Johnson interacts with customers.

    - Denise-Marie Guerra / Marketplace

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    One of Christine Johnson’s favorite areas of the store is the ‘Fake Food’ section, complete with felt pizzas, felt cakes, and wooden miniatures.

    - Denise-Marie Guerra / Marketplace

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    The store’s toddler section. Animals in the back make one of the loudest noises in the store, simply squeeze and ‘Squeak.’

    - Denise-Marie Guerra / Marketplace

This is the story of two new store owners, on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, following their passions with big ambitions for what’s next.

And I should warn you, it’s sweet; sticky sweet.  It starts, appropriately, with 15 chocolate-chip cookies going in the oven.

Courtney Cowen is the owner of Milk Jar Cookies. She’s also the person who makes all the cookies here.  “It was just kind of the one thing that I excelled at,” she says, “I can make a cake, I can make a bar, but there’s nothing special about them. And there’s something special about the cookies.”

She and her husband, Adam, quit their jobs in the entertainment industry and in April opened this cookie and milk store. A cookie here will set you back $3 -- you can order a glass of milk to go with it.

They pieced together the money they needed to open with a small business loan and family and their savings. “Since 2005,” says Cowen, “I’d been doing an online company" -- selling cookies -- "and always had this as the end goal, so it just took time and confidence.”

So far things have gone better than they expected. They have six part-time employees, two of whom  just started this week.  (Perhaps as a sign of the still struggling economy, she got upwards of 100 applications for those jobs.)

She’s hopeful for what’s next. “I would like in five years to have one or two more locations,” she says, “we would like to grow beyond this space and serve people in other areas.”

A quick walk down Wilshire -- past a couple salons and women’s clothing stores, past a Staples and a beauty supply store, and you get to Miracle Mile Toys and Games.

Christine Johnson opened this toy store in March after a whole lot of thinking about it, and posting her vision on Facebook:  “Once I wrote out the story of my dream on Facebook, and had all the support from my friends and family going back years, all my childhood friends, I thought, well now I have to do this.”

There’s no boy aisle or girl aisle here. There are almost no toys that take batteries. There are squeaking toys and rattles, play food, and board games.

Christine wasn’t able to get a bank loan to open. “The store is completely funded by myself and my husband,” she says, “and our savings and our credit cards and bootstrapping it, I guess.”

When I ask her if she’s nervous, if the risk stresses her out, she says no, not really. “I don’t mind the risk. It’s exciting and if you don’t take some risks you’re never going to get some rewards back.”

Five months after opening and she’s feeling good. She’s thinking already about another location.

She’s hired three part-time employees for this store. “I wish I could have my employees full-time, because they are all great, and I know they could all use full-time work,” she says, “and down the line that’s something we’ll do. I’d love to be able to offer them health insurance and all the rest.”

But, for now, that’s got to be in the future plans.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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