- By Emily Taplin - Photos by: Ash & James Photography
When you walk into Arlee Park in South Minneapolis you’re greeted by a bright, warm space and two smiling faces. The atmosphere draws you in and hits all of your senses, leaving you excited to explore the items in every corner. Filled with a curious collection of nostalgic musings and vintage goods, Arlee Park is owned and curated by two sisters with a uniquely sophisticated style coupled with a knack for thrifting.
Identical twins Jamie Hewitt Budnick and Ashley Hewitt Lemke opened the shop in April of this year and the inspiration behind the name comes from their grandmother Arlene, who used to live on Park Avenue in Minneapolis. Today, both Ashley and Jamie live on that same exact street, just eight blocks from one another. These two are close-knit and awfully similar, and in working together, they find balance. Ashley shares that Jamie is more relaxed and carefree; while Jamie says Ashley is the one who is more business-minded with numbers and the more organized of the two.
This balance comes in handy in their creative undertakings as the sisters don’t own just one business; they’re also the faces behind the lenses of Ash & James Photography. Just like thrifting, it’s a skill they learned on their own. Jamie told me Ashley would look up all of the technical terms and do the research online. Both sisters love the challenge of capturing chemistry between a couple and the creativity it requires.
For Jamie and Ashley, the dream of owning their own shop came long before they started photography. Their passion for thrifting developed in 2014 when they scoured Minnesota antique shops for brass items that would serve as decorations for Ashley’s wedding. It was about the time Jamie’s office was full of finds and Ashley’s spare bedroom was starting to get the overflow that the sisters decided to open up a store. Ashley told me they originally started selling their collection of thrift finds on Etsy during the slower months of their wedding photography jobs.
Ashley explained that she used to hate thrifting because, “You go into it expecting to have all these great finds and more often than not you walk away empty handed.” This is a sentiment I can totally relate to. She told me that since then, she’s learned to go into it with zero expectations. Beyond that, she and Jamie have done a lot of research on how to search for items.
For those of us, like me, who prefer not to do the extra homework, or digging, one might go to Arlee Park. A place where every item discovered by Jamie and Ashley has been carefully crafted into cozy compilations all around the store. This is the stuff new homeowners like me get excited about, allowing decorating dreams to run wild in a place where every item is a treasure meant for someone to find. Slowly but surely, my house is becoming the second home to Arlee Park goods. I asked the sisters if they had a name for the style consisting of white walls, wooden and wicker accents and dozens of woven rugs from generations past. They told me they don’t, so for now we’ll call it the Jamie and Ashley magic. Like it says on their Instagram page, they fuse nostalgic and vintage goods into modern living.
The sisters have curated a certain look with the sentimental items they’ve tracked down. Among their collections are beautiful brass trinkets from the mid-century like vases, combs and mirrors and even the occasional animal; like a darling duck or shiny seal. They also have an impressive ceramics section. I promise you’ll be drooling over their empty clay bowls. And it’s not just home goods—their vintage cutoff shorts have been very popular. A few of the Levi’s have even found their way into my closet at home and turned into a staple of my summer wardrobe.
I asked the Hewitt sisters how they run two successful businesses at the same time and not get overwhelmed by it all. They told me that, besides their husbands, the twins are each other's biggest support systems. They have the same viewpoint on most things and know that support, plus a lot of hard work, is the key. They’re also taking advice from their dad who in 2008 was diagnosed with cancer and passed away two years later, at just 52-years-old. Shortly after, in their mid twenties, Jamie and Ashley decided life was too short to wait on the things they wanted and started traveling. It was through their adventures to far off lands like Sri Lanka, China and India that they discovered a passion for photography.
That path of discovery hasn’t ended. Through their work as photographers they constantly reveal emotion and love. And through their thrifting adventures they discover forgotten Minnesota treasures and give them new life through a new perspective. As for the future of Arlee Park? They have an old pickup truck and hope to fix it up and make the shop mobile and, one day, hope to add an additional store. Through their photography and through their store, these sisters have many more nostalgic memories to uncover and share.