By MeLinda Schnyder - Photography by Madison Ham
In the past year, the corner of Hillside and Douglas has been a campsite, a fairy garden and a hot air balloon launch, among dozens of other fantastical settings.
The scene-shifting space and the creativity originates from Love of Character, a business that opened in 2016 with the tagline, “Adding character to your parties, gifts and life.”
Half of the 1,800-square-foot space in the historic Dockum Building is party rental space while the rest is a retail store beautifully staged with party supplies, balloons, stationery, wedding invitations and a variety of small gifts.
Owner Mary Billings grew up in Wichita with a creative streak inspired by her family. Her favorite memory from Christmas Eve dinners was the fun and fancy kid tables her aunt would set. She attended the University of Kansas, then returned to Wichita to work as an accountant at Koch Industries. One of her creative outlets was throwing themed parties, and she was good at it. Good enough for others to pay her to help throw their parties.
She started a blog in 2013 where she shared her party creations with readers and documented do-it-yourself home improvement projects as her and her husband renovated their College Hill home. That grew into an online store where she sold gift boxes and handmade decorations, then expanded to a full retail site with sourced party supplies. She named the blog For the Love of Character and stuck to that theme when she realized she needed a storefront to give her clients a party venue and a place to see and touch the party supplies she was recommending.
Billings opened the shop in July with night and weekend hours only, then before last holiday season she quit her day job and went full-time at Love of Character. Regular retail hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and the store is extending its hours to be open noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday through the holidays.
The venue can be booked any day of the week year-round. It regularly hosts birthday parties for all ages as well as baby and wedding showers, and has even held meetings and Bunco groups. Some customers simply want to rent the space – which looks picture perfect even without additional décor – others bring ideas and supplies but want Billings’ help to pull it all together. Some turn over complete creative control to the Love of Character team.
“We love that customers can come to us with a Pinterest board and trust us to make it come to life,” Billings said. “We have so much fun planning parties for all budgets. We get to use our creativity by coming up with fun yet affordable ways to make a party happen on a smaller budget as well as coming up with ways to take a party over the top with a big budget.”
Billings and her team also throw events in the space that are open to the public and often sell out. Four sessions of Cookies with Santa sold out within minutes, as did the store’s second annual Nutcracker Tea Party with Ballet Wichita this month.
“People want these cute, well-put-together, intimate experiences,” Billings said. “It’s been fun to bring that to the community.”
The store’s events are typically limited to 16 to 20 guests and cost $20 or less per person. They also offer $10 craft sessions once a month. In 2018, Billings plans to throw several Valentine events along with other themed events throughout the year like this year’s popular garden party with fairies and gnomes. Billings continues to blog about parties held at Love of Character to inspire other planners (loveofcharacter.com).
Billings uses the retail part of her business to sell her favorite party supply products as well as gift items for all ages. The gifts can be used for party favors, hostess gifts, baby shower gifts, bachelorette party gifts or bundled into a box for a larger gift.
The store’s mix of locally made, regional and nationally distributed gifts is fun to explore. You’ll find Sugarfina grown-up gummies made with Dom Pérignon bubbly to Kansas City’s Lake brand hand-poured soy candles to Avery & Grey bows and headbands made in Andover. There are greeting cards, books, journals, prints and seasonal items.
Love of Character offers personalization options for many of its decorations and gifts, and you can buy single sheets of wrapping paper and have the staff wrap what you purchase.