A West Main Street bakery modeled around the idea of inclusion is closing its Charlottesville storefront after nearly five years of serving the community. “I feel like everyone should be able to go to any celebration and feel like they are included in that celebration,” said Laurie Chapman Blakey, owner of Pearl’s Bake Shoppe. “Whether it be a wedding or a birthday party, they should be able to share every aspect of that celebration.” Accordingly, when designing Pearl’s Bake Shoppe, Chapman Blakey and co-founder Laura Condrey both felt inclined for the bakery to offer allergy-friendly desserts to accommodate family members with food allergies and sensitivities. Chapman Blakey and Condrey wanted there to always be a sweet treat for someone regardless of gluten-related dietary restrictions, and Pearl’s has distinguished itself from other bakeries in Charlottesville by offering vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free pastries. “That’s the beauty of a cupcake,” Chapman Blakey said. “There can be 24 different items and flavors and everyone has their pick.” Chapman Blakey and Condrey provided dessert catering for a range of events in Charlottesville, including children’s birthday parties, weddings and charity galas. Not only did Pearl’s accommodate the dietary needs of all its customers, but it also positively impacted — and plans to continue to impact — many nonprofit organizations in the Charlottesville and Richmond areas through donations. In the past two years, the two Pearl’s locations have collectively donated over $10,000 to Service Dogs of Virginia, a nonprofit that trains and places dogs to assist disabled people with their daily activities. From the moment Chapman Blakey and her father witnessed these dogs at work in one of the open houses, Blakely has viewed this nonprofit as an incredible life-changing organization that she is passionate about supporting. In addition to these monetary donations to Service Dogs of Virginia, Pearl’s also provides cupcakes for their office and events. Pearl’s has also supported and donated cupcakes to the Haven on a weekly basis, to the Charlottesville and Richmond Ronald McDonald House locations and to the Bill Howard Golf Tournament that supports Alzheimer’s research. Pearl’s’ Charlottesville location officially closed on March 26. “My business partner wanted to step down,” Chapman Blakey wrote in response to a comment on Facebook.“We tried and tried to hire additional employees but to no avail. It was a very difficult decision to shut down Charlottesville.” To the surprise of Chapman Blakey, hundreds of people responded in dismay to Pearl’s’ closing statement on Facebook. Chapman Blakey expected the closing to evoke a reaction but not one of this scale. Many locals and University students were devastated by the loss of a solution to their sweet tooth and staple to the community. Chapman Blakey also listed the lack of a parking lot as a reason for closing Pearl’s Charlottesville location. However, the main reason was having difficulty with keeping employees in addition to the burden of one person managing two locations. Most of the employees working at the Richmond Pearl’s have been there for at least five years. “We love our staff,” Chapman Blakey said. “They feel like family.” Kiyanna Hill, a former employee at the Charlottesville Pearl’s location, also described Chapman Blakey as family. She was in her fifth year of working for Pearl’s. “The interview felt very professional, but [it was] as if she cared about you as a person while also trying to find someone that would fit in the family of staff that she brought together,” Hill said. However, due to a lack of employees, Hill and Chapman Blakey ended up taking on too much of the workload themselves, and Chapman Blakey found attending to both stores unmanageable. Chapman Blakey grew up in Charlottesville and calls it her “zen place,” but she first opened Pearl’s in Richmond, which is the only Pearl’s location still in operation. She named Pearl’s after her grandmother and a family portrait still hangs in the Richmond location. “I now see Pearl’s closing as the fact that I know when my mom comes, she won’t walk and get cupcakes with me because there’s no place to get them now,” third-year College student Delaney Burkart said. Burkart loved Pearl’s because its location on West Main meant she could conveniently walk there with her mom or with friends. This convenience was especially important to her as a first-year when she did not have a car on Grounds. Burkart’s favorite dessert at Pearl’s is their full nine-inch red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting while her mom usually opted for the blueberry scones. Burkart is not alone in her fondness for Pearl’s’ red velvet cream cheese desserts. “Whenever Pearl’s’ delivery man would come to Roots to drop off 24 cupcakes in exchange for a dozen Roots bowls, I would, like, fight people for the red velvet cupcake,” fourth-year Commerce student Eileen Wilkerson said. Although Wilkerson never visited the shop in person, her positive interactions with Pearl’s’ employees gave Pearl’s a special place in her heart. “I think it’s more sad because it was one of those businesses that made Charlottesville unique,” Wilkerson said. “I’d like to thank the community there for embracing us,” Chapman Blakey said. “I reconnected with a lot of old friends and made new friends, and I will miss seeing those people on a daily basis.” Although Pearl’s closed its Charlottesville location, its Richmond storefront will remain open and Chapman Blakey is in the process of finding a way to still provide Charlottesville with the decadent desserts and inclusive options that its customers know and love.