Stop by The Little House for some holiday shopping, and chances are the conversation will be about how some of the Island’s magic will fade after this Christmas season, when Bettie Edwards, the store’s owner, moves on.
After 36 years at the store’s helm, Edwards announced recently that this season will be her last, and the news is making its way through the Island grapevine, startling those who have relied on the store for years for the perfect gift or personal indulgence.
At the store last Friday, Islander John Staczek shared his thoughts with Edwards and another customer.
“I’m going to miss it,” he said. “This is the perfect little shop. There’s just this feeling you have when you come in here.”
Edwards first set about creating that certain feeling for her customers when she and her former husband Dan Snyder bought the store in 1976. But after all these years of working 60-hour weeks, Edwards said she is ready to move on, though with decidedly mixed emotions — “a happy-sad time,” she calls it.
“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful ride for 36 years,” she said.
Now, Edwards said, someone she knows hopes to buy the building and run a child-related business there. If that does not work out, she said she will put the property — but not the business — on the market in the spring and see what happens. At 67 and in good health, Edwards said she wants some time now for herself and to visit family in far-flung places.
“Now is my time for me to be,” she said.
Down the street from The Little House, Frame of Mind owner Donna Kellum has been in business nearly as long as Edwards and expressed her own mixed feelings about Edwards’ news.
“I’m so very excited for her,” she said. “But this will be a huge loss for the merchant community.”
Edwards has been a cheerleader for Vashon merchants, Kellum said, always positive and coming up with new ideas — and then following through on them.
It’s no wonder Edwards has played such a role for the Island’s business leaders because the subject of shopping locally is one she is passionate about.
“You need to support the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker,” she said. “You need to buy your lightbulbs at the hardware store, your flowers at the flower shop and your gifts at the gift store because that gives the community diversity.”
Such an investment is important, she said, not just to keep businesses afloat, but because those businesses benefit the community in a variety of ways, not just with what they sell.
“It’s not the Targets that support your schools,” she said. “It’s the small local businesses.”
Running one of those local businesses requires a lot of work, of course, and Edwards is quick to point out she has had support and company along the way, including from her family members and hundreds of employees, many of whom she still keeps in touch with and whom she gathered together to break the news — complete with kazoo fanfare.
Indeed, Angie Kelly, the manager of the store, has worked with Edwards for more than 20 years and said she is excited for Edwards to have more time for herself and be able to say “yes” to all the invitations that come her way. She is also pleased they will be able to spend time together outside the store, exploring other interests.
“I’m going to take her hiking,” Kelly said with a laugh.
With the holiday season upon us, Edwards invites people to come into the store, create a heart and write a favorite memory of the store on it. She will hang the hearts from the ceiling — in keeping with the store’s theme this winter, “All hearts are home.”
Soon the Island will celebrate the winter holidays; Santa will come to town; countless children will visit him in his cottage, and many people will gather in the Village Green for the tree lighting. In fact, Islanders have Edwards to thank for many of our holiday traditions, including having a cozy cottage to visit Santa in and ensuring that children who write him hear back promptly. While the youngest Islanders may not know this part of Island history, many adults are well aware of Edwards’ perennial Christmas cheer.
At Frame of Mind last week, as Kellum talked about Edwards’s holiday contributions, Beth de Groen, one of the owners of Windermere, stopped in, overheard a small portion of the conversation and chimed in.
“You must be talking about Bettie,” she said. “You say ‘Christmas’ and ‘ambiance,’ and its got to be Bettie.”
Once Kellum filled her in on the reason for the conversation — Edwards’ planned retirement — De Groen responded succinctly, no doubt expressing the feelings of many.
“Oh, crap,” she said, then paused as the news settled. “It’s like the end of an era. You’ve just ruined my day.”
Edwards admits to shedding some tears in recent days, but she is certain of her decision.
“It was time to jump, to shake the earth a little bit, take the next step and see what unfolds,” she said.