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By David Rea/ThisWeek
With neatly dressed dolls lining the walls and filling the tables, Checkerberries doll shop in Westerville can transport customers back to their childhoods.
"I hear adults say when you walk in here, it's like going back in time," said owner Susan Paugh.
Paugh, a Northland resident, had no business experience and no experience with dolls, other than as a child, when she left an 18-year career at Anthem Insurance more than six years ago to strike out on her own.
"I had had it," Paugh said of working in the corporate world. "I kind of had an emotional breakdown to where I had to change my life."
Unsure of where to go professionally, Paugh was visiting her daughter, Julie Scappaticci, when she noticed boxes lying around. Scappaticci, of Worthington, explained that she was making money buying and selling things over the Internet.
From there, the mother-daughter team became business partners, making candles to sell at craft shows and selling items over the Internet.
Noticing that dolls and stuffed animals sold well, the two soon developed an Internet site devoted just to dolls and plush items.
Two years later, the pair had a shop in an old house on East College Avenue in Westerville. Checkerberries has since evolved to a three-room shop on East Main Street in Uptown Westerville.
"In order to sell the dolls we really loved and really wanted to sell, we had to get a shop, so that's what we did," Paugh said.
Initially, the shop appealed to collectors, carrying high-end, pricey dolls, but eventually, Paugh switched her focus to her younger customers, selling more and more toys along with collectables.
Now Paugh said she relishes visits from her regular customers, especially the children, many of whom save up for months to buy the more expensive dolls and who hate to leave the store.
"I love the kids," Paugh said. "I've had little girls cry when they have to leave."
And like her adult customers, Paugh said running a doll shop has the power to transport her back in time.
"When you get in new dolls, it's like you're 6 years old and it's Christmas," Paugh said. "It just brings you back to your childhood."
For her, the shop always has been about the fond memories a doll can bring.
"I'm one of those people: I don't collect anything," Paugh said. "But I love dolls."
Though Checkerberries is built on fun and toys, Paugh acknowledged that it's also a serious business. Scappaticci still runs the store's Web site, which accounts for about half of Checkerberries' business, Paugh said.
She said she long had thought running a business was out of her reach, but she said she realizes now that all it takes is a little courage and faith.
"I've always wanted to have a shop since I was really young," she said. "I always thought that was beyond my reach, then I realized it's really not."
The important thing, Paugh said, is that she's come to realize that investing in her dreams is more than a business plan.
"You've got to have enough faith in yourself," she said. "Don't look at it as an investment in business, but as an investment in yourself."
Even with that faith, Paugh said it takes time for a business to take shape. With her love of the merchandise she sells, she said she could see her business growing.
"The shop now, after four years, is beginning. It takes that long," Paugh said. "I wish I had a shop twice this size."
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