RACINE — Seventeen years after opening a little Downtown shop jammed full of folk art from around the world, Jane Key will retire and close Inside-Out.
In June 1996, Key opened Inside-Out at 237 Main St. Ten years later she moved to her current location, 406 Main St.
“That (first) little store was my best friend,” she said.
Before opening Inside-Out, Key was sales manager for North and South America for the Norwegian furniture company Westnofa.
She also opened an interior design company called Inside-Out. “The name will continue as a design business,” Key said.
In the store’s heyday, she said, she carried folk art from at least 40 countries: nearly all African nations; Malaysia; Indonesia; Mexico; and more.
Friday, her merchandise included 4-foot-tall beaded human figures from Nigeria, made with thousands of tiny beads each; hats from Africa; Chinese antiques; papier-mache puppet heads from India; and many Day of the Dead altar items from Peru.
However, Key’s ability to economically import goods from abroad suffered after Sept. 11. Heightened national security measures made importing items for resale far more difficult and expensive, she said.
Meanwhile, the Great Recession has been followed by a presidential election year slowdown in shopping, she said, and severe drought which is expected to boost food prices.
“It affects all my customers,” Key said. “They’re not wealthy people — they’re just average, working Americans.”
Inside-Out’s two best years were during Main Street’s reconstruction, Key said. “Because people had to use the ramps, and women came down for lunch. People shopped all around Downtown.”
That loyalty didn’t last after construction, Key added.
While in her first shop, in 2003 Key won a national award for visual store merchandising. She received the award from Gifts and Accessories magazine in New York City.
“People stood up and applauded this little store with 900 square feet — and that included the back room,” she said.
Inside-Out’s merchandise is now marked down 30 percent, with some exceptions.
Key said she’ll continue to live in Racine and will give her time to three different nonprofits including Downtown Racine Corp.
DRC Executive Director Devin Sutherland said Inside-Out’s loss will be disappointing for Downtown and called the store unique. “You find things there you don’t find anywhere else.”
Sutherland also said Key has been “integral” to Downtown’s success. “She has been there for Downtown over and over and over again. We’re going to miss her a lot.”
Key remarked, “It’s going to be hard for me to let go of this.”