The Year was 1978. Jimmy Carter was in the White House, Ronald Reagan was our Governor, houses cost about $55,000, new cars cost around $5,000, there were 26,000 people in San Clemente, and our businesses were centered downtown, around Avenida Del Mar and El Camino Real. We were still a small town. It was thirty years ago.
This was the year that Susie Smith, single mom, decided to quit working outside her home and be a “stay-at-home-mom,” to Tracy, 9, Dayna, 8 and Michael, 6. Having graduated from USC with a degree in Dental Hygiene, Susie had been working successfully as a dental hygienist for 14 years. And in 1978, she changed her career path, changed her life, and opened her store, which eventually became Backstreet Home Décor, in her home in San Clemente.
Over the years, she’s expanded the store into 4,000 square feet and two stories, a glorious maze of bright aisles literally packed with perhaps a thousand home décor treasures. (Today, its front door is even on El Camino Real instead of a backstreet.)
In Susie’s own words, this is how it happened:
“First and foremost, I was a mom, a single one, and working full-time. I longed to be at home with my children. But my education, and all my training, was in the field of dental hygiene, and I had been privileged to work for several excellent dentists. But my profession, as rewarding as it was, kept me from being at home.
“In 1978, just as a hobby, I began making dried and silk floral arrangements, for myself and my friends. I wondered … could I make this a business, and quit my job? I was not at all sure, but one day, on a whim, I took a ‘flying leap of faith,’ and quit my job. My Mom and Dad thought I was crazy, but my friends applauded, and said ‘Go for it.’”
Word spread quickly, and Susie started selling arrangements out of her garage, and even started giving classes in floral design. (Cash price: 4 Lessons for $12! The price included complimentary eucalyptus bunches and pyracantha berries from her back yard!) The lessons were really therapy sessions for Susie and her friends, and of course the “teacher” was the one who learned the most!
The garage business grew and evolved over the years and is now a 4,000 square foot home décor and silk floral gallery in downtown San Clemente. Susie says she learned more than she ever thought possible about design and décor from her staff, her sales reps, her designer clients and most of all, from her customers.
First time visitors are stunned to see such abundant, diverse choices and are amazed at the size of the store. Susan says, “We only LOOK expensive. What sets us apart is that all of our florals are custom designed on the premises. We work with our clients to create exactly what they want. We really try to come up with the unusual — the unique items that you just don’t find in every single store. We also buy our décor and furnishing pieces from unique sources throughout the country, and we pass our volume discounts through to our clients, which allows us to offer our wonderful items at fantastic prices.”
Susan often visits her customers in their homes. “We offer in-home consultation, too, for home accessorizing. This could be for pulling together all the existing design elements in a home, or accenting a room with different picture frames, artwork, trees and florals, or creating a new look or accent, or designing a complete makeover.”
She observes that, “Client budgets vary, of course. Sometimes we do several rooms at a time, but for many clients, we just suggest that they start with a single room and then go from there. I like to start with the home’s foyer. When we get the right feeling for the entry, the rest of the process begins to flow from that direction.”
Susan’s daughter, Dayna, handles both residential and commercial décor at Backstreet over the Christmas holidays. Dayna says, “A very big part of our annual business is decorating for the holidays. It’s a time when people want their home to be especially festive, warm and inviting for parties and family functions.”
A passion for design and décor has always come naturally to Susie. “When I was a kid, I loved rearranging my parents’ home. I re-hung the pictures; I moved the furniture. I always loved nature and the natural beauty of flowers and leaves and branches and trees, and so arranging floral and home décor items just seemed so perfect for me to do - way back then, and especially now, too. What I do does not seem like work at all.”
Thirty years later, Susie is “first and foremost, a grandma” to Lexi, 9, Chloe, 8, Bella, 5 and Madelyn, 5, who are often with Grandma Susie at the store. She says “Grandma” is by far the best name she has ever been called.”
Long time friend Judy Brocato says “I often just drop in for a cup of coffee.” Other customers remark, “Oh, I’m not buying today, I’m just coming in for a ‘Backstreet Fix.’ ”
Susie wishes to extend her thanks to her family, and friends on this special anniversary, for their support for over thirty years.
Located at 307 N. El Camino Real
San Clemente, 498-2210.