Dawn McCombs goes all in on Glean, relaunches the Short North boutique as an online shop

When McCombs closed ‘the tiniest store in Columbus’ at the end of 2020, it set her on a yearlong path of rediscovery

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Dawn McCombs

Dawn McCombs closed her Short North boutique Glean in late 2020, a decision that followed almost a year of struggling to run the compact shop amid a pandemic that converted what had long been part of the business’ charm (McCombs’ formerly embraced it as “the tiniest store in Columbus”) into yet another hurdle to overcome.

“My foot traffic was probably below 50 percent, in part because of the store,” McCombs said in a December interview with Alive. “As much as I loved [the small size] before, it definitely became a handicap.”

McCombs’ plan at the time was to regroup and launch a virtual shop, returning to her roots by focusing solely on bath and body products — a plan that finally became reality when the retooled Glean website went live a couple of weeks back. But McCombs didn’t exactly take a direct line to the new online shop, first taking a corporate job selling small business insurance, a position she kept for a few months before realizing that her heart wasn’t in it.

“When I look back on it now, I was feeling pretty panicked and pretty uncertain about my future,” said McCombs, who also finalized her divorce in the month before Glean closed in November 2020. “When I took the [corporate] job, it seemed like the way to go, and it was creating some stability that I felt like I really needed. But, in hindsight, it wasn’t the right decision for me. … I’d never had an office job, so it was pretty radical for me. Not to diss anybody who does it, but for me, I can’t explain it. It was like breaking a wild horse.”

Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter

This point was hammered home on a daily basis as McCombs helped new entrepreneurs establish small business insurance. “And I’m telling them, ‘This is great that you’re doing this. You have to do what you love,’” she said, phrases that wormed deeper into her brain with each passing day. “It started to feel like, wow, I need to take my own advice.”

So in mid-February, following three months on the job, McCombs quit, dedicating herself full time to revamping the Glean website from the ground up, taking all new product photos and rewriting all of the necessary copy, an arduous process that took nearly seven months to complete. (McCombs credited the mentors she worked with throughout the process as part of a grant she received through the Ohio Small Business Development Center.)

In addition to the temporary stability it provided, the three months of corporate work also allowed McCombs more time to come to grips with the closing of the brick-and-mortar shop she owned and operated for eight years. “It was a lot to wrap my head around, and I was still shifting into this life of a not-married person, so there was a lot of change afoot,” said McCombs, who added that while she missed working with local artists and interacting with customers on a day-to-day basis, she still felt the decision to go virtual was the correct one, particularly with the delta variant continuing to cause chaos for in-person retailers. “We’re still in a global pandemic, so there’s a big part of me that feels trepidation about opening another storefront right now.”

For now, McCombs said her plan is to operate Glean solely as a web business for at least a year, and then to reassess both where the business stands, as well as what the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape looks like come late-summer 2022. “I want to hold back and see what unfolds,” said McCombs, who later followed up in an email to reiterate that, at this moment, “I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

“It’s a different journey, but it’s the path I’m supposed to be on right now,” McCombs said. “After I quit that corporate job, I was like, ‘You know, it’s Glean or bust right now.’ I’m just in it, because this is what makes me happy. I really want to make it work, and I’m excited to see what happens.”