December 4, 2013

Slices of Life: Former waitress has taken a leap of faith — and her life savings — to open her own design shop

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By Jordan Sward — One o’clock cannot come fast enough.

It’s 8:30 on an autumn Wednesday morning and Heather Smith has a decaf pot in one hand and regular in the other. The five-stool bar at Merry Ann’s Diner on Neil Street is occupied by men in Carhartts and camo hats, all of whom Heather addresses by name as she tops off their ceramic coffee mugs.

“Gonna be quiet around here,” the cook jokes as he pours liquid eggs on the sizzling skillet. After 1 p.m., there won’t be any more dings from Heather’s pink cell phone. No more “Hey, Heather” shouts from around the room or the sound of her subtle Indiana twang joking with the regulars.

In her usual uniform of jeans, tennis shoes and a Merry Ann’s T-shirt, 25-year-old Heather delivers plates of hash browns and eggs, as she has done seven years, for the last time. Today, she attaches to every handwritten tab a business card: Smith Design & Consign, Heather’s new shop at 41 E. University Ave., Suite 1E, which is marked by her fancy new $4,000 black awnings, in downtown Champaign across from the bus station.

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This story was written by a University of Illinois journalism student in Professor Walt Harrington’s Literary Feature Writing class taught in collaboration with The News-Gazette. Funding for the class, which was taught at the newspaper’s headquarters in downtown Champaign, came from the Marajen Stevick Foundation. The story was part of an occasional series titled “Slices of Life” that ran in the newspaper’s Sunday Living section. All the stories in the series are also collected in the book “Slices of Life.”