Every year, we inevitably come to that stressful time – the holidays are approaching. By Black Friday, we are expected to already know what we will give our friends and families for the holidays . . . nearly a month in advance! And though we pretend that we are relaxing and enjoying football and turkey dinners, beneath the façade, our minds are running through exhaustive lists of potential gifts and presents that we hope to snag during these hectic shopping days. Well worry no further because this year, holiday shopping will be easy with one quick trip to All Things Virginia and Wine on Water at 68 W. Water Street in downtown Harrisonburg.
All Things Virginia, one of Harrisonburg’s newer retail shops, only sells items produced in Virginia and by Virginia artisans. Operated and managed by Vicki Ruckman and her son Michael, this shop’s creation came about slowly and from a number of lucky circumstances.
For many years, Vicki would put together Christmas gift baskets for friends and family that featured Virginia products. But she found that it was time-consuming and frustrating to research and find these items and order them from so many different places. “I thought it would be interesting to have a source where people could get [these items] in one place, hence the idea of ‘all things Virginia’,” says Vicki. However, as Vicki’s husband began to take on his own project of roasting and selling coffee for his company, Cabin Creek Roasters, All Things Virginia was put on the back burner. That is until Vicki received a call from Randy, owner of Wine on Water, a wine tasting room and seller of wines from Cave Ridge Vineyard, who was looking for someone to turn the connecting store into a gift shop for Virginia products. This was just the opportunity Vicki was looking for.
With the help of her son, Vicki managed to put the store together and open just in time for Black Friday 2010, with a ribbon cutting ceremony on the same day as Harrisonburg’s Holiday Parade. “Luckily we got a lot of promotion from the newspapers and even though no one really knew we were here, we had a successful first day,” Vicki says. So now, with many new products and much past success, Vicki is looking forward to the first anniversary of the store and continuing to help members of the community find great personalized and local products for gifts. Shopping at All Things Virginia is quite a different experience than going to a mall. Vicki says that the partnership of All Things Virginia and Wine on Water creates a “unique shopping experience.” “This is the only place in Virginia where you can simultaneously get a glass of wine and do all of your shopping!” says Vicki.
You’re sure to find the most unique products at All Things Virginia that you would never find at a chain store or in a catalog. “I try to have a large variety,” says Vicki. ” I go to many vendor festivals in Virginia and do plenty of research to find what to sell.” Vicki decided to not only sell food but also arts and crafts made by local crafters. This not only catered to Michael’s interests but also allowed the store to offer a one-stop shopping experience for many types of goods. For example, Vicki is about to start selling Virginia-produced teas, but was only able to find them available in the loose-leaf variety. Luckily however, a local potter was willing to work with Vicki to provide mugs and tea strainers to accompany this type of tea.
Vicki also wanted to ensure that shopping at All Things Virginia was not an overwhelming experience and so she set up the store in a thematic way, placing items like Italian sauces and pasta on one table, and so on. This makes preparing a gift basket easy, especially when Vicki is there to wrap it all up. “We have pre-made gift baskets but customers can also buy a basket from us and fill it with our items of their choice for a customized gift,” says Vicki. “Then we just charge a small fee to wrap it up.”
So what is it about a gift from All Things Virginia that is more special than one from a chain store? “Buying local is such a huge movement right now,” observes Vicki. “I realized that so many people, like me, were interested in giving gifts from where they live and [that represent] their culture to friends and family who may be out of state or in a different country.” Besides offering more location-specific merchandise, the visit itself to All Things Virginia is more personalized for the customer and allows them to engage in their community. First Fridays in downtown is just one opportunity that All Things Virginia has pursued to introduce people to the store and its products. “At first I was hesitant about First Fridays,” says Vicki, “but starting around July when Wine on Water and All Things Virginia brought live music to the store, things really got busy.”
Vicki has greatly enjoyed working with the downtown Harrisonburg community, especially since she is a bit new to the area. “It’s all been great,” she says. “Everyone here is so supportive of everyone else.” Vicki is not worried about potential competitive stores coming to downtown Harrisonburg. “The more businesses in downtown the better,” she says. “It will give more reason for people to come down here.”
So with the holidays approaching and gift-giving in mind, we encourage you to come down to All Things Virginia for the most unique shopping experience. You can warm up with some Cabin Creek Roasters coffee or a nice glass of mulled wine from Wine on Water, and be sure to pick up a seasonal and renowned Monastery Fruitcake from Holy Cross Abbey. You can view an extensive listing of store products and artists on the All Things Virginia website or their Facebook page. Or better yet, stop by the store to see for yourself.
Remember to mark your calendar for All Things Virginia’s First Anniversary sale and celebration this Friday, December 2nd. Stop by for samples of the store’s products, 10% discounts on art, and live music by Brian Elijah Smith from 5:00-7:00 pm.
Katie George is the Promotions Intern for fall of 2011. She is a senior Media Arts & Design major at James Madison University.
All photographs © 2011 Katie George