Photo courtesy of Journeys of Life.

Years ago, Laura Dickson received a small medallion with the word “Breathe” etched into the metal.

“I didn’t get it at the time,” admits Dickson, of Kittanning. “I kept zooming. Then I realized you have to stop and breathe, or you’ll get caught up in all this calamity.”

Her road to recovery from substance abuse began at that moment, proving that a small gesture of kindness can have a big impact.

The gift giver, Jean Haller, is in the business of hope. Three decades ago she opened Journeys of Life in Shadyside. It specializes in self-help books, inspirational gifts and spiritual guidance. The store also serves as a resource for people battling addiction and for the professionals who work with them, providing an inspiring gathering place for the Pittsburgh community.

When she retires and closes the shop later this month, Haller hopes her customers will find ways to continue serving one another and supporting the professional helping community just as her store has done. She isn’t selling the store. But she’s aware of the role it has played in the community and is hoping others will find creative ways to build on it.

“I opened this place because everybody is on a journey,” says Haller, who has been sober for 33 years. “Whether that involves recovery or not is irrelevant. We’ve been called a recovery store, a New Age store, a metaphysical store. I resisted being pigeonholed because we’re all of those things.”

Over the next few weeks, she hopes to see familiar faces, as well as new customers, at the store. If they’re in need of help, her advice to them is simple: “Trust your gut and find reputable people you can talk to,” she says. “I think that’s what Journeys has done; we’ve provided paths for people.”

Journeys of Life manager Lori Group (left) with owner Jean Haller. Photo courtesy of Journeys of Life.

The 70-year-old is embarking on a new journey: spending more time with her children, grandchildren and husband, Henry, while helping fledgling business owners.

“You can take a girl out of retail but you can’t take retail out of the girl,” she tells NEXTpittsburgh. “I plan to do some consulting with women-owned business locally and throughout the country. Thirty years of experience should not be left unused.”

One possibility is working with POWER as a mentor for women who are returning to the workforce and searching for affordable, safe housing.

On a recent Saturday, patrons packed Haller’s Bellefonte Street store, browsing the shelves through tears. Andi Buchanan, an elementary school counselor, traveled from Waynesburg, Pa., to stock up on books that will help her assist troubled children.

“Jean offers resources and connections you can’t find anywhere else,” she explains. “It’s such a family here. You feel like you’re a part of things.”

That sense of community is what Haller will miss most about Journeys of Life.

She experienced that remarkable community support herself on Nov. 13, 2011, when an electrical fire destroyed her store’s original building and its contents. Customers and associates donated money and merchandise to keep the business afloat. Within two weeks, Haller was set up at a temporary location around the corner. And by May 2012,  she was back at her renovated store, where a long piece of butcher paper bears the names of everyone who helped during those dark days.

Haller has been repaying that debt of gratitude ever since, serving as a friend and mentor to many. In retirement, she wants to become more active with The Neighborhood Academy, a college prep school for underserved children.

“I love helping kids get ready to be the first in their families to go to college,” she says. And she hasn’t forgotten: “It was always this school that sent helpers after the fire.”

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.