Sonja Pate isn’t afraid of Walmart.
Pate owns Village Peddler in downtown Fairhope and when asked about competition from Wally World, she quickly replied, “It’s all about customer service and unique merchandise.”
The shop is an “everyday living” store with kitchen gadgets and home accessories for dining and patio entertaining. Pate bought the store a year ago from the founder, Caroline Marney.
Previous owner Marney established the store almost 20 years ago. When she decided to retire last year, Pate was working for the State of Mississippi in Jackson and looking for a change. “I saw the business online, and the rest is history.” Pate moved to the Eastern Shore and has not looked back.
“I visited Fairhope for the first time for Christmas of 1998 and fell in love with the place,” she explains. “When I found out the Village Peddler was for sale, I knew it was right for me.” Pate actually managed a similar business in the Jackson area for several years.
Pate, whose varied resume includes driving a cotton picker for 14 years on her Mississippi farm, has expanded the shop to include additional lines of merchandise. She explains that one of the hottest sellers currently is a new product to Fairhope. “Captain Rodney’s Boucan Glaze, is a specialty food item used in absolutely wonderful hors d’oeuvres and other recipes. It flies off the shelf.”
“Another popular item in the store is our hanging hammock chair,” Pate explains as she insisted on this columnist verifying its comfort. (Let’s just say the chair has a strangely hypnotic effect on the soul, somewhat akin to Old Forrester and water.)
“And then there is the Annieglass line we’ve recently added,” says Pate, “which is art for the table and has been handcrafted in Santa Cruz, California since 1983 by Annie Morhauser. It’s a favorite in our bridal registry.”
Recognized as fine art, pieces of Annieglass are in the Smithsonian. Annieglass items start in a fiery kiln where the glass melts over a mold permanently fusing it to 24K gold, platinum or other materials. Where the glass bends over the mold, the precious metal stretches into a delicate branching pattern, a trademark of the process. No two pieces are alike and every piece bears an engraved signature.
Another handcrafted line offered in the Village Peddler is pottery by Erich Edward Emmenegger who is originally from North Alabama. Emmenegger’s “Three E Designs” pottery has won numerous Best in Show art awards. “We’re fortunate to be the exclusive area dealer for this popular artist,” says Pate.
Located across Fairhope Avenue from Julwin’s Restaurant and Andre’s Wine & Cheese, the unique shop also sells specialty linens. “We sell beautiful linen tablecloths, napkins and placemats,” say Pate who obviously enjoys the running the store and interacting with customers as she chatted with a couple from Colorado who were buying linens to take back home.
The Village Peddler has a complete kitchen in the rear of the store where cooking demonstrations are held. Local chefs are invited to conduct cooking classes. “It’s one of the most popular things we do,” Pate says, “and it’s always a capacity crowd.”
Pate says one of the most interesting recent classes was conducted by Chris Raninosek who is the chef at the Wash House Restaurant in Point Clear. “He is a wonderful chef and conducted such a good demonstration.” The classes are held seasonally and require reservations.
Customer service. Quality products. Unique merchandise. Walmart, eat your heart out.
* * *William Bruce is a business broker and appraiser. He may be reached by email at WilliamBruce@bellsouth.net, or by phone at (251) 990-5910.