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Meet Bonnie Esslinger of Bleu 32

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bonnie Esslinger.

Hi Bonnie, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
Back in 1991, just before I graduated from college, I told my husband that I didn’t think I was supposed to be a teacher, I was supposed to have an antique store. He gently reminded me that my parents had just spent a lot of money on tuition, and we currently had about $24 in our joint bank account, so that might not be the most practical career choice at that point in our lives. So a teacher I became, then a stay at home mom, followed by many entrepreneurial pursuits, including a bed and breakfast.

In 2012, we moved to Columbia and I was shocked at the lack of vintage shopping opportunities in such a historic town. When the perfect little cottage became available in 2015, I took the plunge and opened Bleu 32. I filled the 1100 square foot space with my inventory, and it was very well received. So much so that a year later when a 7000 square foot space became available on the square downtown, I had plenty of quality vendors ready to sign up to be a part of our Vintage Marketplace. Again, the community embraced us and 6 months later we leased the top floor of our old JC Penney building as well. Now with 12, 000 square feet, and 3 floors filled with 60 vendors, we are still thriving, and I am so thankful to be I doing the job that I love with a sweet group of creatives that make every day so much fun!

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
When you schlep junk for a living, there are going to be some bumps in the road. There have been breakdowns, injuries, accidents, and traffic tickets! I set up at several fairs and can recall a few times I might freeze to death or have heat stroke. One low point was loading up a trailer in the pouring down rain. Furniture stuck in the mud. It was one of those times that you are so miserable, there’s nothing to do but laugh.

Of course, there have been staffing issues, threats of losing our lease, months upon months (especially starting out) with no paycheck at all, but overall, I’ve been incredibly blessed. I have the best staff, and such talented, hard working vendors. They make the job feel easy.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
We are a 12,000 square foot marketplace in downtown Columbia. The Many vintage dealers are joined by a boutique clothing booth, and several talented artisans. There is even a gorgeous cafe upstairs that overlooks the street. The variety, paired with the historic atmosphere and beautiful displays make for a magical shopping experience.

Bleu 32 is proud of our vast selection, reasonable prices, and fun shopping atmosphere. We’ve been voted “Best Antique Store” in Maury County for the past 5 years. And recently took 3rd place for “Best Antique Store” by Nashville House and Home Magazine even though we are almost an hour from Nashville.

Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
One of my entrepreneurial adventures included a women’s tour group called “Bonnie Blue Tours.” We only went on one trip, but I hope to resurrect that venture one day and include flea markets and junkin’ outings!

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Image Credits

Cara Smith
Sara Gilliam

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