THE WONDER of the Christmas season is most often reserved for children. It is something most of us outgrow as we get caught up in managing lists, coordinating holiday visits, decorating and wrapping. Every now and then you find a special someone who embodies the joy of Christmas—not just during the holidays but all the year through. Rebecca Bradford is one of them. As owner of Simply Southern in Covington, Rebecca has created a delightful boutique specializing in regional artwork, décor and gifts.
As the shop enters its fifth holiday season, Rebecca explains that the foundation for Simply Southern began when she was a young child. Her lifelong experiences with her Catholic faith and her family, coupled with her creative mindset and passion for her hometown, are evident in every aspect of the business—not simply what is displayed on the shelves.
The youngest of five children, Rebecca grew up near St. Joseph Abbey in Covington. She recalls having monks, neighbors and friends in the kitchen for visits and family meals. “We never knew who was going to pop in. My mom was always ready for company. She stocked our pantry with ingredients that enabled her to put together something special at a moment’s notice,” she said. “I try to emulate that same sense of hospitality at the store. It is more than simply welcoming our customers. We provide that ‘special something’ for people looking for gifts or pieces to decorate their homes.”
Rebecca cultivated her creative side from an early age. While she may not have always referred to herself as an artist, she displayed a talent—and a passion—that are the definition of artistry. It was pure serendipity that propelled her into opening Simply Southern. And of course, it began with Christmas.
In the winter of 2009, Rebecca wanted a way to commemorate the exceptional Saints season so she made ornaments for friends and family. A few weeks later, while her beloved team was creating its destiny as Super Bowl champions, Rebecca began creating her own destiny as a successful business owner.
With the help of her parents, Jim and Dayle Bradford, and her brother Jim and sister-in-law Charlotte, Rebecca put together the concept for Simply Southern. Using the name she and her sister Julie had originally wanted to use for bringing their mother’s pralines to the marketplace, they envisioned a forum for local artists and artisans to sell their wares.
In preparation for opening the store, Rebecca took a leap of faith and quit her job. She traveled the Southeast United States attending craft fairs and festivals, visiting artist guilds and consignment shops. Along the way, she learned about the people behind their artwork. Being able to share artists’ stories, as well as their talents, was an unexpected blessing. “I work with a variety of artists—some of them are mom and pop businesses, some are full-time painters and craftspeople. We have retirees supplementing their incomes and young artists trying to cultivate a following. By showcasing such a variety of artists and media, we’ve been able to put together an eclectic array that offers something for everyone,” she said.
While Simply Southern does feature artists from across the South, the majority of the pieces are made within a 60-mile radius. “We are the ultimate ‘shop local’ experience,” Rebecca explained. For instance, the store has sold more than 12,000 bars of Monk Soap, handcrafted by Brother Andrew and the monks of St. Joseph Abbey.
Since opening the store in October 2011, Rebecca has used feedback from her customers to work with artists on special pieces and offerings. She said having the pulse of the community helps on both sides of the counter. Artists can tailor some of their pieces, or even expand their product lines based on what customers are looking for. The store’s assortment of hand-made ornaments is a great example of that collaboration.
“We’ve had such a great response to our ornaments that some artists have begun their own collections. Ornaments are like jewels on a Christmas tree. Their beauty comes not only from their designs, but from the memories that are associated with them.”
Noting that everything is better with twinkle lights, Rebecca said that once the garland is up, the store takes on a magical quality. Customers come in and their sense of wonder and merriment is restored. “We offer an escape from the hectic pace of the outside world and make the gift giving experience fun again,” she said. “It’s more than checking items off a list, it’s about connecting gifts with recipients. To top it off, we take care of the gift-wrapping, regardless of the price point. We give as much attention to the gift packaging as to the gift itself.”
And mom’s famous pralines? Even they make an appearance over the holidays, giving customers a sweet treat while they are shopping.
A devoted aunt to 11 nieces and nephews, Rebecca said Christmas is taking on special significance now that the older ones have gone on to college. Adding to the gift packages she mails to them throughout the year, Rebecca has included a new tradition for the holidays where she makes a medley of their favorite dishes.
“The holidays are a wonderful time for honoring traditions, enjoying family and making memories,” she explained. “But honoring those things throughout the year is what it is all about. It’s what makes me a simply Southern girl, and it’s what marks the store as Simply Southern.
Simply Southern is located at 70448 Hwy. 21 in Covington. For more information, you can call the store at 985-871-1466 or visit their website, simplysouthern.com.