Dothan couple sees downtown retail potential, opens 2 stores

Christy Keyton named her downtown Dothan home décor and gift shop after her grandmothers, Naomi & Olive. She and her husband, Johnny, also own the Bird & Bean Coffee Shop next door.

On a sunny Alabama afternoon, Christy and Johnny Keyton sit outside their busy coffee shop on Foster Street in downtown Dothan. With the front doors propped open, customers and friends coming by for their daily caffeine fix happily interrupt their conversation.

“We have a lot of repeat customers at Bird & Bean and Naomi & Olive. We have gotten to know them, and they ask about our kids. We ask about theirs. We love that,” said Johnny.

But the charming streetscape wasn’t always so picturesque. In fact, when Christy first saw the once-deserted downtown district, her disappointment ignited a passion for its potential.

“Within the first couple of months of living here, I drove down this street. And I thought, ‘Why is nobody down here? These are the cutest buildings! Why is it like this?’ Most of them were boarded up,” Christy described.

Christy, who is originally from Birmingham, was accustomed to a plethora of shopping options – from the quaint, locally owned shops in Homewood to the big department  stores at the city’s many shopping malls.

“When we moved here in 1986, and my husband started his dental practice in his hometown of Dothan, I asked him, ‘Where does your mother shop?’ And he said, ‘She goes to Montgomery for some things and other towns at times.’ And I thought, ‘I’m about to spend the rest of my life in this town, and there’s nowhere to shop!’”

As the years passed, her husband grew his dental practice and they focused on raising their family. But her dream of what downtown Dothan could be, never left her.

“There was really only one shop and one restaurant down here. We would come and eat there often just because I could see a vision for what it could be. I kept telling Johnny, this could be so cute if somebody would just come in and invest in this space and get it going.”

And So, It Began
She also worked some Saturdays for a friend who owned an antique mall downtown. One morning in December 2014, that friend told her she was ready to sell her building.

That afternoon, Johnny met Christy downtown for lunch.

“Let me guess,” Johnny says he told Christy. “You want to buy that building?”

Two weeks later, the Keytons made an offer, and they closed in March 2015. By July of the same year, and after some minor renovation work, they opened Naomi & Olive. The store is named after Christy’s two grandmothers. It carries home décor and gifts, including items made by local and regional artists.

“We were in the black after only six months, and we showed profit within our first year in business, which is unheard of for a small business,” Christy said.

Coffee Too
The Keytons said it became a running joke in the store to count how many times a customer would ask if there was a coffee shop nearby. Unfortunately, they’d have to say there wasn’t one in the downtown area.

“After about a year of that, Christy and I thought, ‘Maybe there ought to be a place you can get coffee downtown. Maybe we should think about it,’” said Johnny.

It just so happened that the building next door to Naomi & Olive came up for sale, and the Keytons, once again, found themselves making an offer on a downtown building. After purchasing that space, it required a major overhaul to bring their vision to life. In July 2017, they opened Bird & Bean Coffee Shop, adjacent to Naomi & Olive.

“Every detail, we felt like the Lord just worked out along the way,” Christy said. “I believe that the Lord gave me this vision, and Dothan was just right for something like this.”
The Keytons believe the key to their success has been their ability to connect with customers in a way that only small, local businesses

“When you come in our store, I’m actually the one greeting you at the door. We will help you pick out a gift, and we will wrap it for you! We want you to have a feeling that we really care about you. And I feel like we do that, and we do it well,” Christy added.

“I saw a sign not too long ago that said when you shop with a small business, an actual person does a happy dance, and I love that. It’s so true,” she said.

Shop Naomi & Olive at 140 N. Foster St. in downtown Dothan Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The adjacent Bird & Bean Coffee Shop is open Monday through Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

Story and Photos by Melissa Johnson Warnke

This article also appeared in the February 2018 edition of the Alabama Retailer magazine.