Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v01n02)
Chelsea's celebrates 20 years
posted: May 27, 2004
Chelsea's recently celebrated twenty years in Broad Ripple. It was St. Patrick's Day back in 1984 when David and Ellen Matthews first opened their card and gift shop in a small storefront on Guilford. The store has become a landmark, bringing in customers from around the city. During my interview, a customer told Ellen that he has been shopping at Chelsea's ever since it opened twenty years ago. "Our customers are very loyal", says Ellen, "A woman told me the other day that she and her sister never shop anywhere else. Our customers mean a lot to us."
At the corner of Guilford and Westfield Blvd., one of the most historic buildings in Broad Ripple has been the home of Chelsea's since 1990
For the last fourteen years it has been in the historic building on the northeast corner of Guilford and Westfield Blvd. Some of the fixtures are original to the Lobraico's Drug Store. A prominent original fixture still in use at Chelsea's is in the drug store photo on page three, the tall cabinet next to Ivy Lobraico. The original floor made of broken tile pieces can still be seen by the entrance.
In 1998 they added on the 908 Westfield Blvd. building to the east. In 1999 they were awarded the "Best new construction compatible with a historic building" award.
It all started at 6317 Guilford. David C. Matthews was working at Methodist Hospital in administration and Ellen Morley Matthews was working at Microsonics as their financial officer. Ellen had thought of owning her own business since high school. They had been married for eight years when they decided to try their hand at retail.
"It had to be in Broad Ripple", says Ellen, "It is the most liberated spot in Indy." David said when he first came to Indianapolis it was instantly obvious that Broad Ripple Village was different. "It had that small-town feel, a Bohemian place. It drew people in like a magnet."
David Matthews and Ellen Morley Matthews
Their concept for the store was cards and home decor. Contemporary and art deco were the styles they chose as the theme. The location was 6317 Guilford, previously occupied by Clark and Osborne.
They needed a name. David and Ellen had adopted a collie/shepard/huskie mix from the Humane Society and named her Chelsea. "We were sitting at the kitchen table one night and we decided that there was no name better than Chelsea's for our new store."
The original Chelsea
image courtesy of Matthews family
Chelsea had been born with hip problems so the David and Ellen had both of her hips reconstructed. "Chelsea had an amazing vocabulary. She could understand so many words. She was so well trained that Mike Lobraico would let her come into Lobraico's Drug Store to visit. Mike would sit and talk to her and she listened to every word. She was also a regular visitor at Handy Hardware."
David said that while he was working at the hospital, a woman approached him and said that her daughter had named her baby after the store. "It meant even more to us since the store was named after our special dog."
In 1989, after seventeen years, Chelsea passed away. But Chelsea's is not without a beloved mascot. Two and a half years ago, Lisa Griffin, employee and school teacher, found a stray cat in a cornfield in Sheridan. She named the 'female' cat Cornflower. Cornflower had a badly damaged eye. When Lisa took Cornflower to the vet they discovered that it was actually a male cat. They considered changing the name to Cornflake, but that didn't fit. Ellen thought of "One-Eyed Jacks". Jack seemed just right.
Customers now come in to see Jack, just like they used to do with Chelsea. He is king of the store and knows it. Jack was featured in a recent INtake article on store pets.
Jack, the one-eyed cat. A favorite at Chelsea's.
"Years ago wooden flowers became our signature item. Back then we only had tulips. Because of our success with them, one of our vendors has been able to expand his line to include a whole range of flowers. Even in the dead of winter, with the pretty wooden flowers it feels like spring at Chelsea's."
Colorful wooden flowers of all types can be found throughout the store
Another popular item at Chelsea's is greeting cards. "We were one of the first stores to offer art cards without any message printed inside. I remember a customer in the store looking for a card to send to his father that had recently moved to a nursing home. He couldn't find the right card, so I suggested an art card and explained how he could write in a special message. He was hesitant, but did it and later told me that this card had been the best communication ever between him and his father. Success stories like that make us feel great!"
Chelsea's has loyal customers and loyal employees. Many of their employees have been with them for years. Laura Needler, the store manager, has been at Chelsea's for thirteen years. "Our employees are like family", said Ellen, "Many past employees come in to the store to visit when they are in the area. We call them the CFT, the Chelsea Family Team."
It may have been destiny for Ellen to open her store. Her grandmother, Anna Dudley Wilhelm, opened a general store around the turn of the century in Brookville, Indiana. [Brookville was the home of the US Land Grant office for central Indiana] Below is a picture of that store taken in the early 1900's. Ellen's mother Florence (left) and aunt Edna (right) are in the photo with her grandmother. "It is inspiring to think of my grandmother running that store by herself in rural Indiana way back then. I know how much work it is. Thinking of her strength and determination gives me strength."
Mrs. Wilhelm's store in Brookville, Indiana around 1913. Mrs. Wilhelm is pictured with her daughters.
image courtesy of Matthews family