A guilty pleasure among the bustle of Winchester
by Victoria L. Kidd
photos by Lauri Bridgeforth
“It doesn’t get much more creative than this,” says Purple Fern customer Monica Singh-Smith as she digs through the array of silver rings fashioned out of vintage spoons. Smith is a regular, like many others who have come to see the little store on Featherbed Lane in Winchester as a guilty pleasure. Shoppers are drawn to the store partly because of its inviting atmosphere and partly because it carries a range of products and gifts not available anywhere else. It’s the vision of Sarah Garman, a well-known local photography and “creative” who has established the shop as not only a means to make a living but also as an outlet for her artistic pursuits.
Garman makes much of what is sold in the store, as she has since it opened in 2008. She says that her creativity is spread across a broad spectrum of interests. “One week you’ll see me in here making wind chimes,” she says. “The next I’ll make jewelry, and the week after that maybe cards or something else. I love lots of things. It’s really just a matter of what I am inspired to create.” Customers often find her seated behind the cash register and singing as she works on something that will eventually make its way to the store’s shelves.
Those shelves hold items from local artisans as well as fair trade items from makers around the world. Fair trade is a term used to describe a system of bringing products to the market that have been produced by artisans who are paid a living wage for their work. Fair trade is a movement that is anti-slavery and anti-child labor. It supports environmental conservation and empowers women and minorities in the developing world.
For Garman, carrying a range of fair trade products is a matter of conscience. “I love the fair trade concept. I think it’s nice that people get paid what they are worth,” she explains. “They put all of this time into something, and it’s something that has a value that should be reflected in what they get paid for the work. Having these items available means that people can shop globally at a local store.”
Her fair trade merchandise has something in common with items she sells on consignment from local and regional artists, crafters and makers. She believes that these items—which are often one-of-a-kind — make great gifts or serve as a nice way to treat one’s self to something special. “These things are really unique and special because they are made by hand and have staying power,” she relays. “What I mean by that is that if you look around your house, and you really identify the things that stick around over the years, you’ll find that it’s the handmade items and the special gifts that get kept. I like the fact that my store is a place people can come to pick up a special present that holds a lot of meaning for someone.”
“I want the store to be the place to go for gifts at reasonable prices,” she says, “but I also want it to be something more. I want it to be a place that is inviting and offers a little getaway from the big retail experience.”
Accordingly, Garman has set up the retail layout to capitalize on the natural light that bathes over the up-cycled and repurposed displays. Music plays softly in the background as shoppers move through the store to find fragrant candles and perfumes, clothing and shoes, toys and children’s room décor, pottery, journals and more.
The range of items available represent Garman’s eye for spotting what’s special and what sells. She also counts on her customers and partnering artisans to drive what’s offered. “I am very personal with my artisans,” she says. “I tell them what customers think of their pieces, and I price items so that everyone—me, the artisan, and the customer—is happy. It’s about helping goods make their way home.”
Garman’s personal demeanor undoubtedly helps her build great relationships with suppliers, but she does not only apply her bubbly personality and genuine smile to her work at her retail store. She is also a highly respected photographer who books seasons in advance to serve families and individuals looking for someone who has an eye for taking great pictures.
“My greatest passion is photography,” she says. “I love the shop, and I love the people who come in here, but my greatest passion is in the creative effort of taking a family’s portrait or helping a bride capture the thrill of meeting the right guy. I like giving people an experience. The photo shoot is exactly that; it’s an experience.”
Her photography business shares its name with the store, and the Featherbed Lane location really seems to be a hub for all of the creative aspects of her life. This is evidenced by what she says when asked about what the future holds for her business pursuits.
“I want the store to continue to grow, but it’s about more than that,” she says. “It’s really about having a place where I can really stay true to who I am and create… just create from what inspires me. The shop and my photography business provide me an important outlet, and I am very fortunate that people have embraced my work. It’s great to have this eclectic and funky place where generations of families can come in and find something different every time. Grandmothers come in and show with grand kids.
And the generation in between will come in looking for gifts for parents and kids. I love seeing them experience my work and the work of others like me. It’s special.”
From the moment her customers walk up to the displays to the moment their purchases are being carefully wrapped and bagged, they understand why shopping at The Purple Fern is a guilty pleasure.
To preview what you’ll find when you visit The Purple Fern, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/The-Purple-Fern/89836472138. To learn more about Garman’s photography business, visit www.purplefernphotography.com or call 540-678-1006.