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Laurel mother knows what's best for daughter

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Behind her deep Christian faith and family and friends, Alexis Streets delights in tending to another prize possession. This product, though, is designed to be here one minute and gone the next, lifting sagging hearts and spirits. That's why she is taking her sterling reputation as a businesswoman and is ready to turn the page on a new chapter with the rollout of her shop, Basket Treats by Alexis Streets.  

"I have become the dessert trendsetter," declared Alexis Streets, 40, whose sweet spot is at 349 Main Street, in space most recently occupied by the American Justice Institute. The 600-square foot space is slowly being transformed into something akin to a cheery, radiant shop in Disney World or on the boardwalk in Ocean City.

Her gourmet candy line, she said, features five 14-carot gold edible chocolates for the "elite" crowd. Cost: $45 or $50. Then there are cookies and cream infused with cognac, along with the artsy and popular candy apples, another $50 item.

"They have to hand-paint it," she said. "It takes two hours to make one. My personal favorite is the peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

"It's a gourmet candy store, not a bakery," she stressed. "I'm focusing on my candy." Streets and her staff use candy and cookies in glorified arrangements as a springboard for her 4,500 clients. Her dessert tables are the show-stoppers at the hundreds of weddings, showers and big and small corporate events to her credit.

"We are artists," she said confidently. "Things just come to us. ... My job is to make the dessert station the centerpiece of the room."

The events she has catered include radio star Tom Joyner serving as master of ceremonies, the iconic Howard Theater in Washington and Montgomery College. The business also has been featured in magazines such as Bridal and the Washingtonian.  

At one event, remembered Mark Butler, Street's long-time friend, pop divas like Dionne Warwick and Anita Baker showed up. "They thought I was the doorman," Butler said with a laugh.  

Butler, who has known Streets since childhood, claimed that "all I do is clean up and take stuff out of here," he said modestly. When, in fact, it went so much further. It was the former Marine, a truck driver, who undertook the daunting task of turning a dark and dank space into something special. Singlehandedly, he put hand to mind and replaced the floor with sparkling white and black tile, tore out the worn ceiling and installed a dropdown version and redid all the walls. "I've never done anything like this," he said. 

Her move north from Upper Marlboro, where the business began as an online venture, to Laurel, represents a homecoming for Streets. "When I was 14, my mom moved us to Laurel," she recalled. "I went to Laurel High School and graduated in 1992. But I wanted something a little different. I wanted a storefront. My mom said, `Why not come back to Laurel, to Main Street?'"

In December, her mother, Victoria Bell, opened her own store directly across the street called Bellavive Jewelry Collection Boutique. She informed her daughter of the availability of a corner lot at Main and C streets, by the Laurel Meat Market, which would be perfect for her. "I went home and slept on it," Streets said.  

After praying about it, Streets decided to take the plunge and return to her roots. 

Now she is busy repositioning herself and her staff to unveil the sweet side of life. There's strawberry shortcake and Oreo cheesecake, all flowing from her creative staff. But there can be a downside, as copycats turn up frequently.

"The problem I run into is there are a lot of things we do that someone tries to mimic. I cry; it's kind of hurtful. But I keep it moving." Streets said.

While she can't patent recipes, she can copyright wrapping paper designs in order to keep imitators at bay. 

Her mindset extends beyond candy land. Street conceived and shepherded another item, Daisy's Roses Basket Treats Exclusive Whipped Hair & Body Butter, which is sold in nearly a dozen Whole Foods stores in four states.

"Even though it is sold in Whole Foods," she emphasized, "it will be in here also." 

'Won't steer me wrong'

Having a mother with a shop on the south side of the street adds another layer to the mother-daughter dynamic. With six years of experience behind her, Bell said, "Now I go to her for advice! She'll say, 'Ma, I think this is a good idea for your business.' She actually helped me start a children's line" of jewelry. I know neither one of my kids would steer me wrong."

Bell 's other daughter, Monique, 33, owns a beauty salon in Bowie. She received her training through Laurel High's cosmetology program. 

Bell , 55, who opened her shop on Dec. 16, noted that the string of snowfalls hurt her startup, but is thankful that the Laurel Health Food store, directly next door, has generated solid foot traffic. Bell , who lives in Laurel Lakes, said she worked for Comcast for 18 years. "I was tired. I took the retirement package and asked the Lord, `don't ever let me work for anybody else again.' I also asked the Lord for an old town setting like Mayberry, and I got it, right on Main Street. I got both." 

Bell said she's on the road a lot, traveling to gem shows at places like National Harbor, Timonium and Chantilly, Va. "When I go, I take a few thousand dollars, and believe you me, I spend it all."

Each individual piece, she said proudly, is crafted at her office inside her Laurel Lakes home. Bell knows goodwill is a key part of any business. "I've got a few people who say, `hey, Miss Vicki, I don't have money, can you put this on layaway?' I'll work with them. I'm holding a piece item for a lady who said she can't pay me for two months. That's OK." And if, at the end, the customer ends up not buying it, "I'll put it back in the window. I'll sell it."  

Beginning with her early days in Upper Marlboro, Streets said she has worked hard building up a portfolio of loyal customers who crave her galaxy of gourmet products. One of her longtime patrons, Keisha McIntire, remarked that she hired Streets to do the dessert table at her wedding last fall.

"We had strawberry apples, all different kinds of goodies," said McIntire, 41, who works for the District of Columbia attorney general's office. "I can't even begin to describe what she does, and I'm a classy person! She takes it to a whole other level. Her things are a work of art." McIntire also said she is planning to use Streets again for her daughter's 16th birthday party, "and to help me at a few more events." 

McIntire said she was impressed with the selection that Bell offered. "I had never met her mom. I was at the grand opening and I went across the street and found some great handmade earrings for my daughter's godmother. The pieces were really good."

"We have waited a long time for a business like Basket Treats to brighten up Main Street," said Alicia Fields, business services coordinator for the city Main Street." Streets' interior décor, with all of the gumballs, candy treats and soon to come candy-covered apples and cupcakes, likens itself to Being in Charlie's Chocolate Factory; literally, a kid in a candy store.

Fields said with the approval earlier this week of the shop's signage by the Historic District Commission, Streets may have the signage up "as early as Friday, just in time for the Main Street Festival. And her mother does have a beautiful hand-crafted jewelry store across the street. It is also appropriate for Main Street. It is a great sign that we have creative proprietors establishing their businesses in downtown Laurel ," Fields added. 

The enthusiastic Streets said she looks ahead to the installation of new signs announcing her arrival. She expects a bakery case and an ice cream case. And she is ready for Saturday's Main Street Festival -- and every day after that.

"I want to make some noise here, bring life back to his area of Main Street. And I want to help my mom do it, too."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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