Vivian Killebrew in her shop., Stepping Out on Faith (Photo by Adina Keeling)

Vivian Killebrew always dreamed of owning her own shop. When her husband fell sick, he urged her to follow through with the dream. “You gotta step out on faith,” he told her. 

On Oct. 16, 2009, 10 months after her husband’s death, Ms. Killebrew’s shop opened its doors for the first time. Located at 1632 Orrington Ave., her store, Stepping Out on Faith, sells clothing, shoes, jewelry, and accessories for men and women. 

The shop’s interior is hot pink. Inspirational signs, Northwestern paraphernalia, flyers, and art prints decorate the walls. A mirror stands beside the door and a small lamp emits a warm glow at the register. 

Much of the clothing Ms. Killebrew sells is professional, such as suits, ties, blouses, dresses, blazers, and coats, but Stepping Out on Faith also sells more casual clothing, like t-shirts, tank tops, and athletic wear. Her clothing attracts a range of customers. 

“I get Northwestern students. I get women and men going into the workplace, and women and men that are retiring from the workplace,” says Ms. Killebrew. “So kinda all over the board.”

Everything in the shop is on a 90-day consignment, after which items are marked down by 10% every 30 days. If a garment is not sold, Ms. Killebrew returns it to the owner or donates it if the owner no longer wants it. If the item sells, Ms. Killebrew receives 60% of the profit and the owner receives  40%. 

Before opening Stepping Out on Faith, Ms. Killebrew spent years working in retail. She worked at both Macy’s and Marshall Fields and says the two companies are like apples and oranges. At Marshall Field, Ms. Killebrew learned customer service, which she said was not valued as heavily at Macy’s. 

Connecting with customers and being hospitable and helpful is now extremely important to Ms. Killebrew. It’s what keeps her customers coming back, she says. Even if customers leave empty-handed, they return because they remember the positive experience they had at her shop. 

“I look at it like inviting someone into your home,” says Ms. Killebrew. 

Pre-pandemic, Ms. Killebrew hosted female customers, students, and Evanston business owners at her shop once a month, in an event called Girlfriend Sundays. The women drank wine, socialized, and shopped. Ms. Killebrew hopes she can start hosting the event again when things return to normal. 

Like many other small businesses, Stepping Out on Faith has struggled financially due to the pandemic. The shop was closed for three months, but even after reopening, Ms. Killebrew feels the effects of the pandemic. 

“When I opened back up, there was nothing,” she says. “This is the toughest that I’ve ever seen it.”

A customer suggested Ms. Killebrew share her story and create a GoFundMe. She followed the suggestion and raised close to $2,000. 

“It has helped, and I appreciate everyone who has given to it,” Ms. Killebrew says. “People can be very, very, very nice.” 

In hopes of attracting new and old customers, Ms. Killebrew also gave her shop a “facelift.” She revamped her store with a fresh logo, new merchandise, a photo shoot, and new paint. She hopes a bigger online presence will help bring in revenue as well. 

Ms. Killebrew says she does not know how much longer Stepping Out on Faith will be around, but she is willing to fight for her business. To her, “stepping out on faith” means taking a risk to do what one loves, even if it does not always work out. That is what she’s been doing and will continue to do as long as possible.

“If I gotta close down, it’s gonna be screaming and hollering,” says Killebrew. “And if, for some reason it doesn’t work out, and I do have to close, I had a really good time. And I met a lot of wonderful people. I’ve been truly blessed.” 

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...