In 1627 Reverend William Blackstone becomes Beacon Hill's first resident of "Trimountain" the area of Cotton, Sentry and West (Mount Vernon) Hills. Three hundred and fifty eight years later, a small gift shop at 46 Charles Street, Blackstone's of Beacon Hill (named for the Reverend) opened its doors for first time on July 10, 1982. Now approaching 35 years of continuing service to the Beacon Hill community, Blackstone's has had a rich and enduring history through three generations of owners.
Back in 1982, founders and original owners Richard "Dick" Dowd, Charlie Murphy and several friends were all searching for new challenges. They settled on the idea of opening a gift store on Charles Street because at the time, "there was no place on the hill to buy a decent gift."
Dick Dowd, a long time resident of Beacon Hill was born in Worcester, Mass in 1930. In 1959 he graduated from Boston College with a degree in Education and later went on to attain a Masters degree in counseling services. Dick went on to hold various teaching positions in New Jersey and Vermont before deciding to return to Massachusetts. Dick finally settled in Boston on Commonwealth Avenue and took a job with the federal government in the Health and Human Services department as a program inspector. Later, Dick and old friend Charlie Murphy joined forces in a new venture, the McLauthlin Elevator Company. They specialized in the installations, modernizations and maintenance of elevators throughout Boston. They would eventually have as many as 35 employees working for them. But it was always the thought of operating a gift shop on Beacon Hill that they began to focus on.
In 1982, Charles Street was beginning to change. A whole new generation of people was moving into the area. Fortuitously, there were several vacancies in the shopping district and thus an opportunity to fill a need. The vacancy chosen was 46a Charles Street which previously had been a Korean Antique Store. 46b, the other half of the building, was already occupied by Colman Electric. "We were very fortunate for two reasons, Dick recalled. One the price was right and our landlord, The Codman family, was friendly, generous, always on hand to help and highly ethical."
Later on, Coleman Electric changed hands and became a small candy store. After a year or two the space became available, so Dick and Charlie bought the lease, knocked down a wall or two and the Blackstones we know today took shape. From 1982 to 1997 Blackstone's became a fixture on Charles Street. For years they carried a merchandise mix of wonderful home decor items, men's ties, umbrellas, walking sticks and leather goods, and exquisite glass bowls from Schlanzer's of California.
1997, Blackstone's was to change hands and experience a whole new look under new owner, Lynne Miller. Lynne and Dick had been friends for a while. Dick was looking to retire and Lynne was looking to own a gift shop. In the summer of 1997, Lynne took over the reins of Blackstone's. Like Dick Dowd before her, Lynne's path to Blackstone's would be a winding path of geographical moves and valuable experience gained along the way.
Lynne Miller was born in Port Chester, New York, but spent her youth in Summit, New Jersey. She was later to attend Hollins College in Virginia which she has managed to keep a life-long affiliation. Lynne would eventually end up working for Brooks Brothers in New Jersey where she quickly became a top seller, admired by management and loved by her customers. This would earn a trip to Boston, where once again she established herself as one of the best in the business. Lynne enjoyed her work and over time built up a clientele that was not only loyal to her, but had become personal friends of hers as well. This was to come in handy when she took over Blackstone's. Lynne's vision for Blackstone's was to be out with old and in with the new and add a dash of bright color...yellow with white trim! The first thing she did was hold a gigantic sale and sell off the previous inventory for 50-70% off. Within a short time she had sold everything and began to brighten the store with a new coat of paint and began the search for new inventory.
Lynne quickly filled Blackstone's with, as her business card read, "unique and distinctive gifts." She also concentrated on making Blackstone's the place to go for all holidays and occasions. Now the Beacon Hill community had the convenience of being able to shop in one location for weddings, birthdays, teacher's gifts, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and especially for Christmas. Something for everybody at every price point. Starting a business of any kind can be a worrisome thing, but Lynne needn't have worried. All of her good will, kindness and generosity she offered to her customers at Brooks Brothers came back to her ten fold. When word got out she was opening her own store her loyal and beloved friends, neighbors and customers came out to support her. "I was so touched by the outpouring of support...and honestly, I don't think I could have made a go of it in the beginning without these wonderful people!" Lynne says.
Among many of Lynne's achievements and milestones there are two that standout. Lynne was only the second person in the country to take on a new line of ties called...Vineyard Vines. This was when the owners of Vineyard Vines were desperately knocking on doors hoping anyone would give them a break and take on their line. Lynne, of course did, and helped build the brand name to thousands of consumers when they shopped at or visited Blackstone's. Another new product that Lynne introduced was Vera Bradley. This product went "from zero to sixty in a matter of months," Lynne says. It was such a rapid growth that Vera Bradley invited Lynne to Fort Wayne Indiana to address an annual meeting of dealers and company officials.
From 1997-2006 Lynne had taken Blackstone's to a new level. Along the way she happily re-kindled a love from the past with a wonderful guy named Richard Buckley. Before long they married and planned someday to move to Maui, Hawaii. After nine successful years of owning Blackstone's and facing some health difficulties, Lynne decided to retire and turn over the store to a new generation of owners, Jennifer Hill and Mark Duffield.
Originally from Stamford, Connecticut, Mark went to Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. After graduation, he and some buddies went to Nantucket for a short visit, but Mark never left. He stayed on and became a commercial fisherman. Making his way to Boston in 1983, Mark would eventually become a Director of Corporate Development at WGBH, a position he enjoyed for 12 years. Later, he took a position as Corporate Director at New England Conservatory. It was here he meet Jennifer Hill who had started her career at The Conservatory on nearly the same day as Mark. When Mark introduced himself to Jennifer one of the first things she mentioned, as Dick Dowd and Lynne Miller had expressed years earlier, was that she wished one day to own her own shop. At this point, Jennifer and Mark combined forces and opened the doors under new ownership on March 31, 2006. Mark remained a partner in the business until the fall of 2014 when he retired. He is still a frequent visitor and stays to talk to with our many friends and customers.
Jennifer Hill is originally from Ohio where she majored in communications and PR. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Jennifer grew up working in the family shops starting at the young age of 13. With her Communications degree in hand, her career path took her many places starting in Charlotte, NC on to Basel, Switzerland, to Newport Beach, CA and back to Switzerland before she and her husband ventured back to the US in 2004, landing like pilgrims in Boston. During her more than 12 years abroad living in Basel, Switzerland Jennifer spent her days working corporate jobs. In her free time she had the unique opportunity to be involved in the start-up of two not-for profit organization ~ The Professional Women's Group of Basel and Centrepoint. She is an avid fan of Christmas and family traditions. With four years of retail experience under her belt, she ventured into an old and new business as co-owner of KitchenWares by Blackstones (formerly known as KitchenArts) together with her husband Jim Hill where these two life-long foodies get to release their dreams and love of all things food. 'One of the great joys of owning our own business is we never know where the next great product will come from. We have found many of the most successful lines have simply walked through the door like Live in Mosaics, a local made line of mosaic products from shell ring dishes to frames, mirrors, and more,' Jennifer says.
Jennifer and Jim expanded their retail family, adding a second Blackstone's to Boston. Blackstone's of Back Bay (first know as Reflections) opened its doors at 223 Newbury Street in October 2013. They are now proud owners of three stores that span a combined 70+ years in Boston. "We are prouder still to be part of a wonderful community of neighbors and customers who have become as important to us as our own families. For us, there is no greater gift!