Bowling Green small business owner Brittany Blackerby feels connected to the city through her education during her time at Western Kentucky University, the support the city and her campus connections have given her, and through the community it provided her family.
Blackerby owns Dixieland Boutique, a women's clothing store that carries regular and plus sizes. The boutique has a brick and mortar location in Bowling Green, an online store and newly an app. She started the business in 2013.
Blackerby came to WKU from Louisville and studied Spanish, history, and Latin American studies. She said “in hindsight, had I known where life would take me, there would have been classes at Western that I could have taken advantage of that would have been helpful, like marketing classes and business classes. But since I wasn't thinking along those lines, it's been something that I've just had to kind of learn as I go, learn by experience.”
While in hindsight she would have done things a little differently, she still values all the education she had. There’s both tangible skills and larger-picture communication skills that have helped her in store owning.
Tangibly, she said sometimes spanish-speakers come into the store and are surprised that she can easily communicate with them.
WKU Spanish Program Coordinator and Spanish Professor Melissa Stewart said most of their students are not preparing to do things directly related to language. Steward said, “they’re using language in a different way.” Just like Blackerby is doing with her store.
“Spanish is important in and of itself, it’s an added value thing,” Stewart said. But also “it’s a practical tool used to broaden your world and to have another angle to relate with people.”
Stewart explained that having a second language is important because it allows you to learn about other cultures, view the world through another lens and have a deeper understanding of others.
Travel and culture have helped shape Blackerby. “After graduating from Western I went to Quito, Ecuador for a year,” Blackerby said. “With that Spanish major and history major, I was really wanting to travel a lot. And I did love doing that. It was one of the highs of my life, definitely, to get to experience a different culture and to see different places. But I also started to feel like I really wanted to have roots again, after traveling for a long time. So I came back to Kentucky.”
“Life is a long, curvy journey and you never know where you're gonna end up,” Blackerby said. “At Western I studied Spanish, history and Latin American studies. My vision was to either work for the State Department or to do international journalism. And, you know, who knows, one day maybe I'll do those things. But I’m at this point in my life where I’ve found that I want to be in Kentucky.”
Kentucky has given Blackerby support through both Bowling Green and WKU’s campus.
“I feel like Bowling Green as a whole is very supportive of small businesses,” Blackerby said. “It's a big enough community to where there are enough customers and clients and there's enough business to go around. But it's not so big that you get lost with huge competitors, you know, like national chains and that sort of thing.”
On the WKU aspect, Blackerby said that she feels support from campus friends who are now customers, from seeing professors and administrators who come into her store and from those connections who share her store on social media and through word of mouth.
Blackerby also employs some WKU students, like elementary education senior Ally Barnhardt from Nicholasville, KY. Barnhardt has worked at Dixieland Boutique for about a year.
Barnhardt said she sees the campus support too, “There’s a bunch of graduates and people who are still in school, and they just want to shop local. With Brittany going to WKU there’s people that she went to school with that still come in and support. Even years later and she still has that support here.”
Another reason that Barnhardt enjoys working with Blackerby is the reverse. Brittany supports the WKU community, and her student staff, through her experience. Barnhardt said “she’s so accommodating and works around our schedule because she knows exactly what it's like to be a college kid, especially at WKU.”
Blackerby also supports the WKU community by being a part of it with her family. “We are active with taking the kids to games and kind of instilling that love of being on the Hill into them,” Blackerby said.
Both of her children are involved in summer camps at WKU and participate in Super Saturdays during the football season. She said she participated a few years ago in Spirit Masters' 40th reunion, where all the alumni of the program got to go down on the field during halftime and she was excited to share that moment with her kids.
Blackerby said, “I feel like it's a really good place to raise children. And owning a business at this point in my life was also going to give me the most flexible schedule while my children are young,” Blackerby said. “It kind of started as a hobby. You know, I've always loved fashion and clothing, but I never envisioned it as a career. But just through luck and hard work and having a dream, it worked out this way to where I can make something that is fun for me, also my career.”