WAVERLY TWP. – When the serveware designer Nora Fleming arrives for a signing event at the Waverly General Store on Sept. 14, the shop’s owner wants her guest to be impressed by the retailing outpost in the middle of the rural township.
“We’re kind of like a little department store,” said Lisa Farrell. “We like to consider ourselves a modern-day general store. You’ll get pretty much everything you need here, just not flour and sugar.”
Waverly does not have a large commercial district. Farrell calls her shop a destination. The majority of her patrons plan trips to the Waverly General Store instead of happening upon the place.
“We’re on a first-name basis with many of our customers,” she said.
The two-story brick building at 1201 N. Abington Road went up in the late 1800s and has almost always been devoted to commercial purposes. Over the years it has been used for selling assorted dry goods and antiques and was the base for an interior design firm before Farrell launched her store in October, 2004.
It is owned by the family of her husband, Bob Farrell, a Waverly native.
When the Waverly General Store opened, it occupied about half the space on the building’s first floor. Every square foot on the street level is now devoted to retailing.
In 2004, the store stocked many handmade craft items. National brands now represent the bulk of the inventory.
“I think one of the keys to our longevity is that we change,” Farrell said. “Each year we add something new, maybe a new level, a new facet to the store. Something that customers have been looking for or something that we think that they’ll respond to positively.”
Dancewear was added to the store’s stock earlier this year. The outfits and footwear worn by dancers are shelved and hung in a section at the rear of the shop.
Farrell said dancewear has become one of the store’s main lines, along with Brighton jewelry, Vera Bradley bags and accessories, Crane stationery, Mariposa giftware, and the platters from Nora Fleming.
Fleming will be at the store from 12 to 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14. Her appearance is similar to events held at bookstores, in which an author meets his or her readers and signs books. Fleming has become known for her line of tabletop hardware.
“She manufactures ceramic serving pieces that have the ability to be changed by adding an ornament, and the ornament is called a mini,” Farrell said.
When people make a purchase during Fleming’s appearance in Waverly, the designer will sign the platter and the purchaser will also get a mini – a purple butterfly.
“It can only be obtained at a signing event,” Farrell said.
With the Fleming event taking place on a Thursday, some customers will be trapped in their jobs or otherwise unavailable. They have pre-ordered pieces that will be signed by the designer and picked up at a later date.
The Waverly General Store is open seven days a week. Farrell is supported by a staff that fluctuates between three and five people, depending on the season.
Nearly 13 years after opening, business is good, according to the owner. Farrell said sales in the stationery segment, which includes invitations, have remained steady even through economic downturns. She uses paper from Crane & Co., which also supplies the federal government’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing with paper for U.S. banknotes.
The store has a website, and customers can go online to order stationery, but Farrell said that nearly all revenues are realized the old-fashioned way: in transactions made over the counter.
There are numerous other small places like Waverly in the state, and Farrell has considered trying the same concept elsewhere. The second store would have a new name, but be similar in inventory and layout. After discussions with her husband, she decided against proceeding with the sister store.
“I think it actually works best in the single location,” Farrell said.
Nora Fleming’s company is headquartered in Hinsdale, Illinois. The big-city skyline of Chicago, 20 miles to the east, is visible from the village. In Waverly, signs that point the way to nearby Interstate 81 show the township is not as remote as it seems. But Fleming likely will not mistake the location for a suburb of Chicago.
“I hope she’s pleasantly surprised,” Farrell said, “by the store, and what we have and where we are.”