The Big Picture
New Central Avenue shop offers ever-changing merchandise
Pam Johnson has opened The Big Picture in the heart of downtown Fort Dodge at 704 Central Ave. She said she hopes her store will help further the renaissance that is turning the city’s historic central business district into in increasingly popular shopping venue.
Johnson’s shop was launched originally in Webster City and developed a large following there. The building where it was housed, however, proved problematic.
“I had to close in Webster City due to a structurally unsound building,” Johnson said, noting that she closed at that spot in February.
The search for an alternative venue led her to a location across the street from The Messenger and the Webster County Courthouse.
“The soft opening was the weekend after Easter,” Johnson said, adding that her grand opening will be June 7.
The Big Picture offers an ever-changing array of unique merchandise.
“It’s just a very eclectic mix of old, new, recycled, upcycled,” Johnson said. “It’s everything from repurposed stuff to nice clothing. It’s one-of-a-kind things that you are not going to find everywhere. The majority of it is home decor but we also have clothing and accessories. I do have some used furniture. What’s in the store changes all the time. I rearrange all the time because there is so much to see.”
She said patrons often find exploring her store to be an adventure with an unexpected result.
“It’s fun to shop here,” Johnson said. “My tagline is ‘You’ll never know what you will find.'”
Some of the items are things that are being sold on consignment. Some have been donated. A number are produced by local people who are artists or have an artistic flare.
“I’m trying to feature local artists,” Johnson said.
Most of the inventory is the result of her search for treasures that she said she hopes others will love as much as she does.
“A lot of what is in The Big Picture is the result of my treasure hunting,” Johnson said. “That’s the most fun part of it for me. I enjoy finding the stuff to bring in. I love going to estate sales and thrift stores and garage sales when I’m driving around. I love it. I enjoy hunting for the treasures and putting treasures on display.”
She also has a passion for promoting reading and uses her store to support that cause.
“At the end of the day my passion is literacy,” Johnson said. “The Big Picture name is intentional. It is to say if we all do a little, we can do a lot. I want a sound business model, but I also want to give back to the community. So, I give a 10 percent discount to teachers and librarians. What I did in Webster City, was had a ‘Round Up for Reading’ so if people buy something and want to throw their change in a jar I donate that to the library there. I’m also a consignment shop. If people consign I give them 50-50. If they donate I do 40-60.”
She said the 60 percent will be used to support worthy endeavor that further literacy.
“In Webster City I gave 60 percent to the library,” Johnson said. “Here it will be either the Fort Dodge or St. Edmond school systems. In the year and a half that I was in Webster City through the round up and donations I gave $1,300 to the library.”
Advocate for downtown
Making Central Avenue and nearby areas a very special shopping locale is a goal Johnson said she shares with other downtown merchants, many Fort Dodgers, the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance and Main Street Fort Dodge.
“I’m a city girl who grew up in Fort Dodge,” Johnson said. “I spent time in Chicago and Kansas City and Minneapolis. I like anything urban.”
She said Fort Dodge’s downtown region has enormous potential.
“I would love to see this become a walking community, a walking downtown where you can shop, sit outside and have a cup of coffee, do a little shopping, go to the library,” Johnson said. “I would like to be part of the downtown revitalization. I like being downtown. I just want to be a part of whatever is going to happen down here. I think we’re doing some good stuff. Every time there’s an opportunity to participate in whatever’s going on downtown, I’m in — way in.”
The nature of varied merchandise The Big Picture stocks and the artistic arrangement Johnson has created makes her shop an intriguing setting for group outings. She welcomes the opportunity to host small group gatherings.
“I do private parties,” she said. “Whatever group wants to come in together.”
Johnson envisions her business as being a part of a much broader reimagining of downtown Fort Dodge.
“Come in,” she said. “See what’s going on downtown. Don’t make my shop the only stop. There’s a downtown retail group that works together. Don’t just come to one place. What’s great about downtown is we’ve got a lot of places to go. That’s a good thing — a really good thing.”
Meet Pam Johnson
Johnson graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High in 1974. She left to attend the University of Iowa from which she received a bachelor’s degree in 1978. Continuing her studies at Texas Tech University, she earned a master’s degree in education in 1980.
“I worked a Loyola University Chicago for two years,” Johnson said.
While there she completed a master’s degree in industrial relations at Loyola. That led her to a career in human resources and consulting.
“The majority of my professional background was in Kansas City and Minneapolis,” Johnson said. “I worked for large companies, small companies. … I wasn’t in Fort Dodge until 2 1/2 years ago. I moved back to help with my Mom.”
Briefly, in late 2016 and the first part of 2017, Johnson was regional director of the Fort Dodge-based North Central Iowa Small Business Development Center. The decision to open The Big Picture grew out of that experience.
Through her work at SBDC, her consulting projects and her own present entrepreneurial adventure Johnson said she developed an appreciation of how complicated starting a business can be.
“It always takes longer and costs more than you think it is going to,” she said. “That and getting consistent traffic are challenges — getting people to come in your store and come back.”
Having now gotten a firsthand taste for being a small business owner, Johnson said she is enthused about the experience.
“I love having the shop,” she said. “I get a lot of positive feedback on how I arrange it and how I stage things. That’s the most fun part for me. And the people. I love meeting people. I love visiting with people when they bring things in and knowing the history of the item. The feedback has been so positive already that I’m very optimistic.”
The Big Picture is open on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Johnson said parties can be accommodated on other days and times as well.