ESCANABA, Mich. (WZMQ) – An Escanaba business is expanding and relocating downtown.
For five years, Jen’s Gems has been buying and selling wholesale and closeout products from national retailers.
The shop has grown out of its current warehouse on 9th Avenue North and is moving into a new building on Ludington Street.
However, Jen’s Gems had a humble beginning. Owner James Ayotte says he got his start by selling clearance purses out of his one-bedroom apartment.
“I was in between nursing jobs,” Ayotte explained. “I’m like, ‘I’ve always been a hustler in school, I’ve always had a passion for entrepreneurship.'”
Jen’s Gems launched as a virtual shopping show on Facebook, which still continues weekly. The livestreams quickly became popular, but Ayotte says they especially took off during the pandemic.
“A lot of our customers are elderly or homebound, so they can’t go out to Walmart and get toilet paper and food and snacks and stuff,” he said. “Ever since then, we’ve had an amazing growth of support.”
Ayotte says the community built through the Facebook page has become a family, something that is very important to him. Ayotte named the business after his mother, Jen–his biggest influence.
“My father passed away this past year, and it’s just been Mom and I,” said Ayotte. “She’s been with me through thick and thin. We always thought of ‘Jen’ as her and ‘Gems’ as in, what kind of gem are you going to find in here?”
In addition to those “gems,” Ayotte plans to use one section of the new storefront as a gift shop to welcome tourists.
“We want to be able to offer these tourists and cruise people coming to town here an option to get U.P. merchandise,” he said.
Ayotte is looking forward to establishing Jen’s Gems as part of the downtown community.
“I’m all about giving back, and being in Downtown Escanaba really means a lot to me,” he said. “It’s just a hidden treasure.”
This weekend, Jen’s Gems is hosting a liquidation sale. Ayotte’s goal is to clear out the warehouse in preparation for the upcoming move. From 3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. on Friday, June 2, customers can fill a bag with items for a total of $10. From 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, the price is reduced to $5 per bag.
For more information on the liquidation sale or to view a Facebook Live sale, click here.