Leaders with vision: Kayla DeVito
The road less taken: One woman’s journey to opening one of Beaufort’s most inspired lifestyle boutiques
By Hannah Massen
Kayla DeVito’s lifestyle boutique, Amidst the Alders, is located in the heart of Beaufort, but she designed it for people who prefer to take “the road less traveled.” She says that customers visit her combination retail store, art gallery, consignment shop and all-around creative space to find unique pieces that will bring them joy for the rest of their lives: a solid maple dining table to remind them of a special trip to Romania. A moody oil painting of the marsh that takes them back to a vivid memory. A jacket made from a vintage linen curtain they can wear happily, knowing it was saved from the landfill, or sterling earrings with their daughter’s birthstone.
“People drive from hours away to knowingly stumble into inspiration and a hearty conversation,” DeVito said.
The oil painter and jewelry artist grew up only a few hours from Beaufort, but her husband, Matt, is a native. They’ve lived in Beaufort for over 10 years, calling it the sweet spot of all things lovely in the Lowcountry.
DeVito began her career as a wardrobe stylist in Nashville, Tennessee. When she was 23, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. And while DeVito watched her go through a number of reconstructive surgeries, she became set on founding a business that could have a positive impact on women’s body images.
She’d always had a passion for making jewelry, and looking back, she says that turning her hobby into a career made sense for her mission: bodies and clothing sizes fluctuate, but jewelry always fits.
She sold her jewelry at local boutiques and trade shows and realized that her favorite part of her job was interacting with her customers. It wasn’t uncommon to walk past her booth and find shared laughter or tears among strangers, turned new friends.
“I joke that if I didn’t have to sell things to pay rent, I wouldn’t,” she said. “I love having a place where people of all walks of life feel safe, adored, comfortable, welcome – no matter. No matter. No matter. No matter.”
Tired of the unpredictability of the wholesale business, DeVito opened her first retail store in a minibus named Melvin.
She and her then-boyfriend, now-husband, sold her jewelry at every trade show and festival that could accommodate the bus, living as frugally as possible to put every extra cent towards realizing her dream of opening a permanent location. In 2019 they signed the lease to Amidst the Alders’ previous location and have since expanded to a larger store just a few miles away.
DeVito prides herself on the attention and dedication that goes into every display, package and corner of her store as well as carrying something for everyone. The store specializes in custom high-end furniture, primitive antiques, fossils, semi-fine jewelry, artwork, leather goods, craft chocolates, skincare and much more. She also works with a local seamstress who takes vintage fabrics DeVito sources and turns them into one-of-a-kind clothing pieces.
While most of the items she carries are unique and unusual, one of the most common questions DeVito gets is about her store’s name.
“We chose the name of our shop based on my lifelong battles with trauma and illness. It wasn’t until months later that we’d find our little business truly would fulfill its destiny by living up to the symbolic name.” she said.
Poetry was an escape for DeVito as a child, and she clearly remembers the first time she read Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” in elementary school. While she realized in adulthood that the poem’s meaning is much more symbolic than she understood as a child, the opening line is no less meaningful to her now: “Two roads diverged into a yellow wood.”
Frost was referring to the alder tree, a resilient species that is the first to grow back after the devastation of a forest fire. Not only that, but the nutrients its roots create in the soil as it grows allow other plants to grow as well.
DeVito and her husband, who now works at the store full-time, settled on the name Amidst the Alders in 2019 in tribute to their family’s resilience.
“We barely made it through those tough times,” she said, “but faith and our wonderful Lowcountry community kept us going.”
1. Find your niche, and do it better than anyone else. Find what sets you apart and lean wholly into it. Concentrate on quality over quantity. If I’m going to sell the best milkshakes, I’m not going to try to have a massive, elaborate menu with other drinks and food. I’m going to have a menu with classic and unusual milkshakes. Milkshakes made with toppings in a crazy variety. Ice cream that is unmatched. Traditional milkshakes, ones for those with allergies or food sensitivities or ones you can’t find anywhere else.
2. Learn as much as you can, especially if your funds are limited. Putting real effort into learning marketing, photography, graphic design, website design, SEO and social media has saved us tens of thousands of dollars. YouTube should be your best friend. Soak up anything and everything from those who are more experienced than you. While sometimes it is absolutely worth it to hire a professional, budgets don’t always allow it. Learn all that you can, so that when it is time to hire a professional, you also can keep up with what they charge and make sure your hard-earned dollars are being utilized to the full extent.
3. Social media, and an online presence, are everything these days. (Mostly) gone are the days when one could simply open up and shoppers would flock inside. If you are not utilizing online to the best of your ability, you are losing money and lots of it. Social media and social proof are everything when it comes to running a successful business.