Downtown shop owner gives back, works to make Holland more welcoming

Jenny Van Veen had just returned to Chicago from a fabulous two-week vacation to Australia when she came to a dreadful realization: The trip wasn’t long enough and she did not want to return to work.

It didn’t make sense on paper. 

She was developing an impressive career at Urban Outfitters as the district merchandiser of the Midwest. In fact, she was preparing to interview for a job in Philadelphia that would put her in charge of even more stores within the company.

There was prestige, responsibility, and new skills, but also stress and the feelings of complete burnout.

It was time to move home.

Van Veen was finally ready to pursue what was always her end goal: opening her own store.

“It was only me at the time. I was single. I didn’t have a family. I was, like, if I am going to risk it all right now, this is the time to do it,” she says. “It was very scary. I cried a lot on my last day at Urban.”

That was nine years ago, and Van Veen is the proud owner of Frances Jaye, the men’s and women’s clothing store she opened in downtown Holland. She survived a pandemic and is giving back to the Holland community that has kept her dream alive.

Growing up with entrepreneurs

Van Veen is the oldest of four children and was raised in Grand Rapids watching both of her parents run their own businesses. Her dad owned a printing company, and her mom became a part-owner of an art gallery.

Her parents prioritized traveling. They started with camping and road trips before expanding to international travel. 

Van Veen attended Calvin College for business and participated in the Semester at Sea, a study abroad program on a ship. In fall 2000, her group visited 10 countries and had the opportunity to meet Desmond Tutu in South Africa and Fidel Castro in Cuba.

“It was pretty world-changing,” she says. 

After college, she moved to Chicago because, she says, “I needed to prove to myself that I could do things on my own.”

It was difficult to find a job. She eventually landed a sales associate holiday help job at Urban Outfitters and never looked back. Promotion after promotion came her way until she made the decision to leave.

More community impact

Van Veen was blown away by the support she received from the downtown Holland community when she opened Frances Jaye in 2012. And that support has not wavered since. 

“To get such an overwhelming response from people I barely knew or from strangers was pretty amazing,” she says. 

In the past year, Van Veen has leaned into doing more than just selling clothes and focused on leaving a lasting impact with the store. She gives back a percentage of sales to a nonprofit each month. Post-pandemic, she hopes staff can donate their time as well to help nonprofits.

She and her employees also have taken diversity, equity, and inclusion training. Van Veen has been closely involved with efforts to make downtown Holland feel more inclusive. 

“I am trying to move that ball along and make sure downtown is a welcoming place to everyone who wants to be in this space, everybody feels like they can come and have a great experience,” Van Veen says.

Listen as Van Veen tells the rest of her story on The Gonsior Show podcast.

Read more articles by Jeremy Gonsior.