A Publication of WTVP

After spending several years in the worlds of real estate and advertising, Erikka Brookhart found her true calling as an entrepreneur.

Brookhart had aspirations of becoming a lawyer when she attended Eastern Illinois University, where she graduated with a degree in political science and a minor concentration in pre-law. That dream faded, she said, when she realized there were more law students than there were practicing attorneys. After a serious illness prevented her from returning to school to pursue a master’s degree, Brookhart decided to begin a career in real estate. Because her father was a real estate developer, she had fostered an interest in the field since her youth.

After earning her real estate license, Brookhart left Peoria and moved north to sell residential real estate for Prudential Properties in Libertyville. She said her experience was meaningful, but difficult. “It was a tough thing for a 23-year old with no ties to the area selling real estate in an established community,” she said. A year later, Brookhart left Prudential and moved to Chicago.

There she developed an interest in and a knack for advertising. Five years after her move to the city, Brookhart earned a position as a media buyer for Leo Burnett. Though her career in advertising would soon result in another promotion, Chicago was becoming lonely for Brookhart. Her friends were gradually moving out of the city, and a job offer from her father in Peoria drew her back to her central Illinois roots.

Brookhart began working as a development specialist for her father’s company, but after three years, her father proposed that she open her own retail store. “He turned to me one day, while standing in an empty space at 401 Water St. that he envisioned for retail, and said ‘You have good taste. Why don’t you open a store here?’ That was a chance I couldn’t refuse,” Brookhart said.

Four years later, she has turned that empty space at 401 Water St. into Cyrus—a colorful, playful and eclectic boutique. With merchandise ranging from beauty products to can koozies, Brookhart said she can safely tell others Cyrus has “a little bit of absolutely everything.”

When she opened the store, Brookhart said it was very important to her not to focus on any particular type of merchandise. “I wanted to be free to try new things and buy whatever might catch my eye,” she said. “It is extremely important to me that we have different, unique and always-changing merchandise. What fun is shopping if all you see is the same stuff in store after store?”

To ensure a one-of-a-kind shopping experience, Brookhart travels the country to find new merchandise. With help from her mother, she visits merchandise marts in different cities to find products unavailable in central Illinois.

Since the store opened, Brookhart has visited New York, San Francisco, Dallas and Las Vegas. “I always come home with something I haven’t seen before from a company I haven’t heard of,” she said.

Aside from her mission to carry products unfamiliar to central Illinois, Brookhart’s main buying strategy is to get what appeals to her. “I usually go with things that jump out at me,” she said.

One of the first product lines she decided to carry was Crabtree & Evelyn, an upscale line of bath and beauty products. Having the largest selection of the popular product line in central Illinois has been a major draw for Cyrus customers. Along with Crabtree & Evelyn products, Cyrus carries other unique items which local customers are elated to find so close to home. This includes Cyrus’ many celebrity-endorsed items. Brookhart loves to keep up with Hollywood trends, subscribing to numerous fashion and home décor magazines. “I flip through the pages and read the articles looking for things that catch my eye or sound interesting,” she said. “I find a lot of great merchandise that way.”

When Brookhart finds something in a magazine, she cuts out the pages and displays them next to the items so shoppers can see the products’ popularity for themselves. “Its kind of crazy how much more people pay attention or buy something because a celebrity is using it,” Brookhart said.

Crazy or not, it works—some of the store’s top sellers are celebrity products. One example is a line of perfume and cologne sprays called CLEAN. This “shower-fresh” scent is favored by a number of Hollywood starlets, and very hard to find in retail stores outside major cities. Brookhart carries the full line of popular scents, and Cyrus is the only store offering CLEAN perfumes in central Illinois.

She attributes her success not only to Cyrus’ unique collection of gifts but also to the store’s location on the Peoria riverfront. “Whenever you travel to a new city, where is one of the first places you head to as a tourist? The waterfront, if a city has one,” she said. “That’s where people expect the local restaurants, night life and fun, unique shops.”

Brookhart also believes that today’s shoppers prefer smaller boutiques to large department stores. “There is a certain charm to a small, locally owned boutique,” she said, “along with a level of customer service that you just don’t get at a big retailer.”

In addition to Cyrus, Brookhart and her family own the neighboring gift boutique Post & Pillar. Not long after Cyrus opened, Brookhart learned that Post & Pillar, a local boutique she admired, was going out of business. Her father suggested that she buy the store from then-owner Bethany Anderson and move it to 401 Water. Brookhart agreed, but she didn’t want to turn the store into an extension of Cyrus. “We reassured [Anderson] that we didn’t want to change anything about Post & Pillar other than its location,” she said. To follow through on this promise, Brookhart arranged for Anderson to remain the store’s primary buying consultant. “We respected all of the blood, sweat and tears that she put into Post & Pillar over the past 11 years.”

Four years after opening her own boutique, Brookhart has transformed an empty retail space into a colorful specialty shop unlike any other in the area, acquiring another business in the process. Though owning two shops might seem like a great deal of work, Brookhart also finds time to devote to the community. She has served several years as vice president for the Peoria Riverfront Association. She also spent the past five years as secretary for Women in Leadership of Central Illinois and is an at-large board member for the Girl Scouts of America Kickapoo Council. Along with these positions, Brookhart has volunteered for the Center for Prevention of Abuse. “I think it is important to give back to the community. Not always financially, but by getting involved on a personal level,” she said. TPW