Belleville

Local couple jumps from lawn business to women’s clothing store

Local couple owns Peace by Piece Co. women's clothing and jewelry store

Jason and Christina Keck of Swansea, IL, own Peace by Piece Co., a women’s clothing and jewelry store in downtown Belleville, IL, near St. Louis, MO, in Southern Illinois.
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Jason and Christina Keck of Swansea, IL, own Peace by Piece Co., a women’s clothing and jewelry store in downtown Belleville, IL, near St. Louis, MO, in Southern Illinois.

Jason and Christina Keck made a change in their careers you don’t see every day.

The husband and wife team went from running a lawn maintenance company to running Peace by Piece Co., a women’s clothing and jewelry store in downtown Belleville.

Peace by Piece opened at 132 W. Main St. in 2009. It specializes in American-made clothing, although there are some imports for sale. Dresses, T-shirts and denim are among the items you can find there.

The store also features enameled copper and iron jewelry crafted by local jewelry maker Heather Holland-Daly, who also works as a sales associate in the store.

The Kecks were honored last month by the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce with the Business Excellence Award, the chamber’s top award.

The chamber honored the Kecks because they “strongly believe in working together with local businesses to promote growth and business retention in downtown Belleville.”

Christina Keck, 46, and Jason Keck, 44, recently met with the News-Democrat to talk about Peace by Piece:

Q: How did you get into the clothing and jewelry store business?

A: Jason: “Years ago, we had a lawn service, and we would always shut down in the winter. We didn’t do snow removal, and so we always would try to find a part-time job, and retail was like the best fit. It was their busy time. We sort of fell in love with the retail theme. We opened the store in August 2009. We had the lawn service from 1999 to 2012.”

Q: You both run the business, and you’re married. How’s that working out?

A: Christina: “Even though we work together all day along, there are days where our paths don’t even cross enough to have a normal conversation about ‘What are we doing for dinner?’ It’s not for everyone. We’ve been doing it for 17 years, and we always say, ‘You need to know when to keep your mouth shut.’ But at the end of the day, he’s still my favorite person to hang around with. We’re the lucky ones. I don’t think every couple in the world can work together. We’ve got it figured out for us.”

Q: What’s your outlook for your business and for the downtown Belleville business scene?

A: Jason: “It’s a good outlook. There’s room for some more restaurants with a couple places leaving. It’s changed the flow of traffic, but we still feel positive about the future here.”

A: Christina: “I think it’s a great area. We’ve always loved and supported this area. We’re always going to have some spots to fill down here, but as long as the city is proactive instead of reactive, we’ll continue to move forward. I always say revitalization is like motivation — it doesn’t stick; you have do it on a regular basis.”

A: Jason: “We both came down here as kids. We’ve seen the ups and downs over the years. It’s just neat to see the momentum.”

Q: Why do you market primarily U.S. and local products?

A: Jason: “We try to do as much as we can American made.”

A: Christina: “And we do that simply because we’re supporting our own economy.”

Q: Last month, you won the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce’s Business Excellence Award, which is the chamber’s top award. What did you think of winning this award?

A: Jason: “It’s very exciting. We really don’t expect that. We just come in and do our thing and try to do the best we can with the resources we have.”

Q: The chamber noted that Peace by Piece was the driving force behind Belleville Main Street’s Shop Local for Schools program that launched last year. Can you tell me about that program?

A: Christina: “A lot of us merchants came together with a lot of schools, and we picked a day, and if you shopped with specified merchants, a certain percentage of our sales went back to the participating schools. So you could come in and shop with us, and we’d have a checklist of participating schools, and you could tell us what school you want your percentage to go back to. It will be Sept. 9 this year. Anything that we can do as a group, merchantwise, and anything that gives back to the community is what we all strive for. We have a really strong network of businesses down here, and we’ve all become really great friends over the last several years. We want all of our businesses to succeed, not just our own individual one.”

A: Jason: “We’d be nothing without the other stores.”

Q: Do you think downtown businesses create a synergy for each other?

A: Christina: “Yes. We’re constantly sending people to our friends’ stores down the street. The restaurants rely on the retail, and the retail relies on the restaurants. We’ll say, ‘Oh are you going to have lunch while you’re in the area?’ or if it’s later in the day, ‘Are you going to grab something for dinner?’ ‘Well, where do you suggest we go?’ That’s how this whole area continues to flow.”

Q: You launched your fashion truck, Evolution of pxp, last summer. How is that going?

A: Jason: “We had a great response to it. We had a good summer; we didn’t start until July. This year, sometime in March it’s going to make its debut.”

Q: Have you seen these trucks before?

A: Christina: “Yeah, there’s several in St. Louis and surrounding areas, but we’re the first one in St. Clair County.”

A: Jason: “They’re all over Chicago; they’re all over California. It’s getting to be a pretty big thing in St. Louis.”

A: Christina: “We created it for Swansea. We live in Swansea, and we wanted the sales tax to go back to Swansea. We like to keep it in Swansea as often as possible.”

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

A: Christina: “I think it’s imperative that people understand the importance of shopping local. The online thing is taking over, and it is impacting a lot of businesses. If everybody chooses to stay at home and shop in their (pajamas), then all these little brick-and-mortar places will shut down, and your taxes will increase. If you are going to shop online, at least shop online with a local business.”

Christina and Jason Keck

  • Job: Co-owners of Peace by Piece Co., a women’s clothing and jewelry store at 132 W. Main St. in downtown Belleville.
  • Contact: www.peacebypiececo.com or 618-233-1519. You also can find Peace by Piece on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.
  • Outlook from Christina Keck: “We’re always going to have some spots to fill down here, but as long as the city is proactive instead of reactive, we’ll continue to move forward.”
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