Photo: Pictured above, family surrounds Heart & Soul owner Debra Draper as she holds the blue ribbon at her official opening in downtown Attalla.
By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer
The Chamber of Gadsden and Etowah County hosted a ribbon cutting for Heart & Soul at 413 4th Street Northwest in downtown Attalla on Jan 31. Though the store opened in July, clusters of supporters gathered to celebrate owner Debra Draper’s accomplishments and welcome her business to the city.
As a home décor store and boutique transformed into one, Heart & Soul offers something for each intrigued customer who walks through its doors. From tableware that exudes southern charm to furniture that channels rustic elegance, Heart & Soul features artisan made goods, jewelry, clothing and accessories that speak to a variety of styles and tastes. While the majority of Heart & Soul features Draper’s merchandise, she houses vendors as well, giving local people the opportunity to showcase their talents and businesses. In addition, Draper offers home staging and interior decorating services.
“I’m a very eclectic person,” said Draper. “I like lots of different styles, so if you walk throughout the store you’re going to find a little farmhouse, some boho, some primitive, some mid-century modern, some things that are repurposed and built out of old barn wood that has been salvaged. There are all different types of things.”
Attalla mayor Larry Means attended the ribbon cutting, along with city councilmen, Attalla business owners and Chamber Ambassadors who expressed excitement for Draper and supported her during the official opening. Means applauded the work done to transform Heart & Soul from the hardware store he once knew into a thriving business that has pleased visitors since July. He thanked the Chamber’s involvement in the process and attested to the improvements planned for Attalla’s future, including new paint for downtown buildings.
“We’re always glad to have a new business [in Attalla] and [Debra] knows that I’m a sucker for coming in [Heart & Soul] and finding stuff I can’t live without,” Means told Draper and the audience. “[Debra] is such a joy to work with. We’re just glad to have you here and what you’re doing. We’re going to support you 100 percent.”
Growing up in Cleburne County, Draper always knew she wanted to follow a certain path: marketing, fashion merchandising, interior decorating or teaching. When she attended college at Jacksonville State University, she chose the creative path, earning degrees in marketing and clothing and textiles. While she worked in fashion merchandising for 10 years, Draper reached a point in her life when she wanted more time with her family. This led to Draper fulfilling not one, but both of the original paths she desired in high school and earning a teaching degree to add to her previous accomplishments.
For 25 years, Draper taught and served as a yearbook sponsor, but she always liked interior decorating as one of her hobbies and expressing herself creatively. Heart & Soul’s seed was planted with one booth in one location that Draper decided to set up to sell merchandise. This booth sprouted into several booths in various locations, until Draper closed her branches and took root in Attalla for four years, doing interior decorating and staging work. Gradually, she built up so much inventory that she knew she needed a bigger space. After searching in the Attalla area, she found the building that Heart & Soul now calls home.
Draper wanted a building large enough to hold her vision of a warm, welcoming atmosphere. In Heart & Soul she offers more than just a place where people can purchase clothing or furniture—she gives them space to fellowship and bond with one another. In the front corner of Heart & Soul rests a customer lounge where Draper encourages visitors to sit with friends, sip coffee and relax.
“I had a conversation recently with a customer,” Draper said. “She had commented on the fact that when she walked in the door, she just felt this nice, comfortable atmosphere. That’s what I want. I want people to feel as though they’re welcome. No matter who they are, what their interests are, they’re welcome in my shop.”
Heart & Soul found its name when Draper saw a quote that mentioned having a “hippie heart” and a “gypsy soul.” While Draper describes herself as a bohemian and eclectic individual, the heart and soul aspect of the quote spoke to her the most.
“Hippie heart and gypsy soul speaks to who I am,” Draper said.
For Draper, shopping is more than just buying merchandise. Shopping is the feeling she gets when she walks in a memorable store, an activity she treasures with her family or the enjoyable experience of finding unique, unforgettable pieces. Growing up next door to her grandparents, Draper’s childhood is linked to vintage items. She grew up with the values of repurposing, recycling and reusing instilled in her. Just as she was taught, she did not discard her preservative and creative spirit, she carried that philosophy into her married life.
A natural treasure hunter, Draper found her perfect match in her husband, Davis, who shares her love of discovering hidden gems. A retired educator himself, Davis (like his wife) transformed his hobby into a business and owns a home repair and remodeling service. In their 35 years of marriage, the couple travelled to new, quaint and eccentric places, digging up buried riches and searching for special items that speak to them. Draper’s home is filled with pieces collected from over the years, but her heart is filled with the memories those pieces hold. Out of all the pearls Draper unearthed, her family remains her most valuable possession.
Draper’s heart and soul dwell with her family. A mother of five, Draper’s unwavering love for her children abounds throughout her store. Her children, three of whom attended the ribbon cutting, support their mother in her endeavors and pitch in to help her. Draper’s husband first encouraged her to pursue business ownership, as he recognized that her personal talents united with her marketing and business background created a successful combination. But more than that, he knew Draper possessed something more to offer.
Draper shared that while she toyed with the idea of opening Heart & Soul in the past, the store probably would never have manifested if it were not for Davis’ support and encouragement telling her ‘you can do this, you should do this.’
“This is where I always get choked up,” Draper said. “[My family] means the absolute world to me, and I couldn’t possibly do what I do without them, their love and support.”
Draper understands the effort required to run a successful business. At Heart & Soul, she strives for excellence, to provide her customers with both charming, unique merchandise that speaks to each individual and an experience that invites visitors to return time and time again. But Draper also understands that along the way, she must remain true to herself—the creative woman who puts her heart and soul into everything she does, and the free spirit who inspires others to do the same.
“It’s a lot of work, but [business ownership] can be very rewarding,” said Draper. “Sometimes, I just have to let go of the stress of trying to be the perfect store owner, having the perfect merchandise and just enjoy the experience and just be me. There are so many things [about the opening] that I saw that I didn’t get done, but I have to let that go and say it’s still going to be okay, everyone is going to have a good time, because that’s what it’s all about to me. Everyone needs to come in, feel relaxed, have a nice time. If you’re yourself and you follow that dream, and you just treat other people well, that karma comes back.”
For more information, visit www.loc8nearme.com/alabama/attalla/heart-and-soul