John and Michelle Wolfe had always been entrepreneurs at heart. They had the drive and the passion for supporting small businesses. So, like many, they decided to return to school and enhance their skill set.
In 2010 the pair were just finishing up respective master’s degrees and looking toward the future. They knew they wanted to go into business and support local artists so they agreed on opening a gift shop that would exclusively sell unique goods created in the Grand Canyon State.
As Chandler natives, they decided Downtown Chandler was the perfect location for a store. After signing their lease, they realized they had just six weeks to open before busy season began.
“We didn’t have vendors, products or even fixtures in the store,” Michelle Wolfe said. “I had never bought for retail before, so I didn’t even know how much product we needed to fill a shelf. We ended up finding 55 suppliers by going to festivals, researching online and having vendors help us through word of mouth.”
With products in tow, this new business needed a name to be complete. The pair turned to history and recalled that in 1868 Rufus Sibley, a relative of John’s, opened a dry goods store in Rochester, NY with a friend. They called it ‘Sibley’s’ and eventually it evolved into the largest department store in the area.
“There is such history there, so we knew wanted to bring ‘Sibley’s’ back,” Michelle explained. “Someone finally said, ‘Sibley’s West’ and it worked. We added ‘The Chandler and Arizona Gift Shop’ to the name to honor that we exclusively sell products from Arizona.” And so ‘Sibley’s West: The Chandler and Arizona Gift Shop’ began.
Today, visitors from around the world come to celebrate the beloved old department store.
“Sibley’s was such an important part of the community that people bring us things all the time. One woman brought us an old charge card. One person who worked in the store brought us their name tag,” she said. “At first, people thought we took the name and added ‘West”, but once we explain the family history, they understand it’s a tribute.”
Michelle quickly notes that much of the store’s success is due to the employees.
“We have the most amazing team. They welcome each guest to the store like they are family. They greet them and tell the stories behind the products. When a guest leaves, we thank them for coming in,” she said.
Sibley’s West now supports 230 individual vendors in areas of food, pottery, apparel, books, jewelry and pampering. It has also become one of the first and largest partners to sell State Forty-Eight apparel.
In addition to goods, the store’s event calendar is filled with book signings, poetry readings and discussions. Michelle says this is another great way for people to meet the artists who make their store possible.
As for the location in Downtown Chandler, she says that recent development projects like New Square bring an exciting evolution. In fact, she says there is still no place she would rather live or work.
The physical store isn’t the only way to buy from Sibley’s West. Their newly launched website brings the love of local directly to your doorstep. Happy shopping!