ST ALBANS CITY-- Walking into Bayberry Cottage feels like walking into a different world from the busy downtown with its restaurants and traffic.
The quietness of footsteps on the carpet gives the shop a serene and safe feel, and the waft of melodic and calming music transforms the everyday shopper into a younger version of themselves, filled with wonder and calm at the uplifting messages smiling out from the walls and the softness and tenderness of the gifts around them.
From handmade signs saying 'Welcome to our porch' and baby clothes with the state of Vermont printed on them, glimmering silver jewelry and unique dinnerware, Sharon Holcomb's store has everything a shopper could ask for in a gift selection, especially if they're looking for something unique for the one they love.
On Friday, the Messenger sat down with Holcomb, who has put up her store for sale, and asked her about her haven on North Main.
How long have you been here?
“In St. Albans, I’ve been here for 16 years,” Holcomb said. “Three years each at two other locations, and ten years here.”
What did you do before you had this store?
“I made dolls,” Holcomb said. “Wooden dolls. And I did craft shows. Big ones. I probably did five a year, and I only did one in-state...and the rest of the time, I was a substitute teacher at St. Albans City School while my kids were in school."
Where are you from?
“I’m from Michigan, from Richland,” Holcomb said. “It’s about 30 minutes away from Kalamazoo!.”
How did you get started on your store?
“My sister and I opened a store in Michigan 18 years ago,” Holcomb said. “For two years I went back and forth, helping her as much as I could. And then I though ‘I’m going to open my own.’ I started out on Bank Street where the flower shop is, and I was there for three years, and I absolutely loved it. The store, the setup, it was absolutely beautiful. But nobody shopped on Main Street, nobody walked up Main Street. So I said ‘Okay, fine. I need to get on Main Street.’”
From there, Holcomb moved her Cottage down to 85 Main Street, where she stayed for three years, before finally settling into her longtime home at 34 North Main Street where she’s been for ten years.
How did you decide on the style of your store?
"When I opened the store in 2006, Vermont was very primitive color-wise. Burgundys, navies, and some of it still is. And I thought, we can’t just have this. We have to have more pastels and brighter colors. And the fun part for me is going to the shows, purchasing it all, and bringing it here to sell. That’s the fun part. I really wanted to do cottagey, and I really wanted to do pastels, and move away from those dark, primitive colors.”
How did you know you were going to have a customer base for your niche items?
“I didn’t, really,” Holcomb said. “But I knew I wanted to do something different, and I just went with it."
Where does your inner joy come from, that you want to sell things that bring people happiness, to transform dark things to light?
“It’s funny, because my sister is the same way,” Holcomb said. “We both have that talent."
Your store is for sale. What will you do next?
“I have another venture in store,” Holcomb said smiling. “I’m getting out of retail and I’m going into boho-pop-up picnics and events! It is something that is starting to sweep the United States here. It’s started in California it’s swept though Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Michigan. You set up luxury pop-up picnics for people. You do it on a waterfront, privately, wherever they want and you just set up a pop-up picnic for them. I can do up to six people, and they all have their own plates and candles, rugs and cushions to sit on. My niece in Michigan does it too. I wanted something I could do summer through fall, obviously because of the fall foliage, and then go to Florida."
Holcomb’s set of design ideas have an Antoinette-style of luxury, with pastel-colored cushions and pillows, large white candles and pewter-colored, romantic candle holders and lavishly decorated rugs and tableware.
Where do you get the home decor that you sell?
“A lot of what I sell, I make,” Holcomb said. “I do all the aprons, I make all of the onesies. I make pillows. And my husband and I, we make signs and picture frames. I try to get as much stuff that is made in the usa as I can. But the fun part is setting it up! I love getting stuff in!”
Does it feel like the shop is an extension of you and who you are?
“Oh yeah!” Holcomb exclaimed. “Definitely. I mean, I walk in here and I think ‘God this is such a cute store."
Where did the name ‘Bayberry’ come from?
“When my sister and I opened our shop in Michigan, there was a store in her town called Bayberry Cottage," Holcomb said. "It had just beautiful home decor. Very high end, just an absolutely beautiful store. And I always said that if I opened a store, I would call it Bayberry Cottage because I just loved the name. And whenever I see the name, it just reminds me of that store. It was very small, and family-owned, and I just loved it."
What was the hardest part of opening a small business?
“You know, I really didn’t see anything as being difficult,” Holcomb said. “The place on Bank street, it used to be a bakery. It was in the worst shape I’ve ever seen in my whole life. But I looked at it, and it was the perfect size for what I wanted. This is a perfect size for me to be able to run it by myself. I don’t have any employees, I do it all myself. And (the contractor) re-did it for me exactly how I wanted."
Why did you decide to sell Bayberry Cottage?
“Last year I said to myself ‘I’m going to be 70 next year. It’s time. If the right person walks in the door, fantastic. But I would hate to ever not see it on Main Street, I really would. But I will work with the people who end up taking it over, I will work for them, help them and get them all set up. Whatever they need.”
What will you miss the most?
“The customers. Definitely. I have some of the most wonderful customers.”
How has COVID changed your flow of traffic?
“If I knew what was going to happen, I would have doubled my stock,” Holcomb said. “I have had the best May and the best June since 2014. People are out. They want to get out and they want to shop. I was absolutely amazed. Governor Scott really pushed ‘shop small’ and people really took it to heart. They really did.”