Ami Carmel home-goods boutique becomes a creative collaboration

Peninsula Premier Admin

CARMEL — When yoga instructor Kim Theobald opened “Ami,” her home-goods store in Carmel, she wanted it to be a symbol and reminder of the importance of living with elements of stillness, of beauty, of celebration.

Ami, which means “friend” in French, seemed to resonate with customers, particularly Theobald’s close friend Annee Martin, who told her the week she opened, if she ever decided to sell her store, Martin wanted first right of refusal to buy it.

“I was in love with the store Kim had created,” said Martin, “and I’ve carried this feeling that curating home goods for customers is something I’d want to do. I love to find cool things that put positive messages into the world. Everything I love—beauty, engaging people, celebrations—all of that was in Kim’s store.”

Seven years later, when Theobald finally felt the stirrings to create stillness in her own life, Martin made good on her offer and bought the store. During a pandemic.

But she didn’t do it alone. Martin, who makes her home in Marina, has lived many career lives — among them psychotherapy, catering, cookbook authoring, interior design, staging, real estate, innkeeping, vacation rentals. Yet, she knew the store would be more successful if she brought her friends into the business, creating a complement of experience and camaraderie.

AnneMarie DeFreest, who lives in Vermont, once owned a home in Carmel Valley and has been visiting Carmel for 20 years. She and Martin were partners in “A&A Hospitality,” based on a historic round barn set on a 245-acre farm. In addition to a 12 guestroom inn, the site became a premier destination-wedding site. Annie Darling, who lives in Maine, is a graphic artist by trade, and a fine-art painter by passion. She has owned two design firms, a stationery business, and a company that helps other artists find their path.

Singer-songwriter Hayley Jane Soggin was performing a home concert in Vermont for Martin’s sister’s birthday when she mentioned she was moving back to her hometown of Pacific Grove. Martin took in the measure of her creative energy and ability to connect with her audience and invited her to come work in Ami Carmel. Not as an employee, but as the fourth partner in the business.

“This is about the ability to create a lifestyle, to pursue our passions and bring our own gifts to this business,” Martin said. “We come to this business with a deep connection, and we want to connect to the community. Once we get through COVID, we want to be the favorite gift store in town. Kim Theobald laid that foundation for us.”

At exactly midnight, Dec. 31, “Ami Carmel” became theirs.

Gathering friends from a distance

Each of the four friends brings a different sensibility and skillset to their store, plus her own story that led her to Ami Carmel.

AnneMarie DeFreest was maintaining a full schedule, running her inn and destination-wedding business in Vermont when the successful treatment of a second brain tumor told her it was time to change her life. She sold the inn and went back to school to get a master’s degree in positive organizational development, which focused on how to build and sustain a business through best practices, built on a culture of collaboration.

“I knew what Annee Martin could bring to the business and what I could, and what parts were missing,” said DeFreest, “such as a really developed e-commerce, as well as a brick-and-mortar business that was more than just a store.”

Every successful business Martin and DeFreest have built has been based on creating an experience, she said. So, in making a commitment to Ami Carmel, they wanted to find a shopkeeper who would “not just sell stuff” but would develop relationships, create experiences, and satisfy needs.

Martin and DeFreest found that shopkeeper in Hayley Jane Soggin.

“As a musician, I’d been on the road a long time,” said Soggin, “but I was feeling the pull to return home, where my heart lives. When Annee called with the idea to have me work in Ami Carmel on a daily basis, to present things to people in a beautiful way and create experiences for people, I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of.”

Soggin, who has performed as Snow White for Disney California, has sung with an award-winning band, and traveled the country performing Folk and Americana music in her rich, earthy alto voice, says her favorite part has always been creating an entertaining experience for people.

“With a shop that has such a wide variety of special items,” she said, “you never know why someone comes in the door. I love that I get to be responsible for creating a moment for people, and affect them in a way that is meaningful. Much the same way music does.”

Guests can count on finding Soggin’s music in the store, sometimes, live.

Although artist Annie Darling lives in Maine, she will come to Carmel for long stretches, as she is doing now to get Ami Carmel ready for its reopening later this month.

“I’ve known Annee Martin since the early ‘90s, and we’ve created a lot of art together over the years,” said Darling. “Our energy is so good together; when she said, ‘I’m not going on this adventure without you,’ I didn’t think twice about it. Every woman involved is super strong and accomplished, and has the spirit to make this store happen.”

COVID-era commerce

Starting Friday through the rest of the month, Ami Carmel will have a soft opening with modified hours, daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed Tuesdays. Beginning Feb. 1, hours will shift to 10 6 p.m., still closed on Tuesdays.

This spring, Ami Carmel will introduce an e-commerce website, as a way to expand the reach of the store, enabling customers to shop from anywhere, particularly during the pandemic. Although, those who shop in-store are likely to get a complimentary fresh-baked cookie and a warm cup of coffee.

“If we could figure out a way to deliver a virtual chocolate chip cookie online,” said Darling, “we would.”

Les quatre amies — the four friends — are keenly aware that buying a store and working to expand its presence in the community during COVID is tricky, particularly when other stores are struggling. Yet they also recognize the following Theobald has created over the years and understand they are bringing the kind of feel-good products to the store that people are reaching for these days.

Martin has introduced a small section based on characters from beloved books, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” “Winnie the Pooh” and “The Little Prince.” Although the products are presented for children, she is keenly aware that these stories reach deeply into the hearts of adults.

“I cling to strong women,” said Soggin, “who don’t apologize for their femininity and sensitivity, and are able to do life with a firm but soft hand. We four are a wonderful complement; I’m earth, Annie’s air, AnneMarie is fire and Annee’s water. I love that Annee is connected to ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ — something so sweet and gentle and nostalgic — and the message is superb. Her focus is on spreading kindness, and she lives by it.”

All four new shopkeepers are grateful to Kim Theobald for laying the foundation for their new adventure.

“Sometimes,” said Theobald, “you don’t realize the impacts and connections you’ve made in a community until you leave. I keep telling everyone ‘Ami Carmel’ will be way better now. Annee Martin knows how to celebrate life even better than I do. You’ll see. I’m excited to see Annee and her team take the shop to the next level.”

Ami is located on Dolores Street between 5th and 6th avenues in Carmel. Phone: 831-601-8605. website:

Contributed by local news sources

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