FALLING INTO PLACE

HOPE — After a small-business owner steps away, long-held dreams and ambitions also can disappear.

But in their own way, three sisters are carrying on the dreams of two other siblings, as well as their landlord, by opening a new business on the north side of the Hope Town Square.

WILLow LeaVes, a consignment shop and antique store, opened its doors at 326 Jackson St. on Aug. 15.

Three sisters who were known as the daughters of Ike and Lavon Wasson while they were growing up in Hope own the new business: Vickie Tedder, Laura Miller and Lisa Long.

Many items being sold by the siblings are similar to what was available at Strawberry Fields Mercantile, a retail outlet at the same location that closed at the end of July by former operator Tracy Fugate.

Although selling quality used items were Fugate’s passion long before she opened up Strawberry Fields in September 2006, it also had been the desire of the building’s landlord, John Robertson, to operate an antique store at that location since he bought the building, Robertson said.

And then there’s the dream of Fugate’s sister, Amy Renae Mobley Taylor, a former bakery owner who longed to have fun a feminine-style restaurant before her untimely death in 2005.

To honor her sister’s memory, Fugate opened Auntie Aimee’s Country Tea Room in the antique store a year after Taylor’s death. When Fugate decided to make a career change, the restaurant also closed. Fugate is now in charge of banquet and event catering at Simmons Winery and 450 North Brewing Company.

But another restaurant within WILLow LeaVes made its debut Aug. 30 to coincide with the Arts and Antiques Fair on the Hope Town Square.

While the new eatery is intended to offer an atmosphere and cuisine that appeals to men as well as women, the restaurant will use tablecloths, real plates and silverware like the former tea room, Miller said.

“A comfortable, down-home feeling,” Long said of the proposed format. “Like going to Grandma’s.”

Both Miller’s husband and Hope town manager Melina Fox, who has launched a Hope-grown marketing campaign, are urging the sisters to offer barbecue and other dishes that feature locally grown food, the sisters said.

“We’re willing to do anything the community wants us to do,” Miller said.

WILLow LeaVes will carry on another tradition started by Fugate, a community dinner theater within the 5,000-square-foot building.

A stage adaptation of Hope author Rena Blake Dillman’s “The Cowboy and the Jean Skirt” will be presented Sept. 11-13.

But the sisters are including their own dreams by adding an art center, complete with classes, as well as WiFi and computers for public use, they said.

The sisters, who rushed to open WILLow LeaVes just a few weeks after closing the deal, said they wanted to minimize the amount of time between the closing of Strawberry Fields and their opening.

That’s because Fugate’s business was known to draw about 180,000 visitors to Hope each year, with 85 percent from outside Bartholomew County.

Although the businesses were profitable, the closing of Strawberry Fields and Auntie Aimee’s was part of an asset-liquidation and pre-retirement strategy, Fugate said.

“It was because of how well (Fugate) did that we felt we had to do what we’re now doing,” Miller said.

That same assessment was expressed earlier this summer by the proprietor of a neighboring retailer on the Hope Town Square.

“(Fugate) has already built up a profitable business,”Gold Nugget Pawn Shop owner Jackie Robb Tallent said last June. If someone with Tracy’s knack for marketing would just step up, it would be great for them and for this town.”

“Everyone had the same thought,” Tedder said.

A frequent question posed to Tedder is whether she will move her nearby beauty shop, Reflections Hair On The Square, into WILLow LeaVes, she said.

While the beauty shop will remain in its current location, it’s likely that her daughter, 2010 Hauser graduate and hair stylist Aleah Tedder, will take on more responsibilities, Teeder said.

Besides dreams and passions, each sister said they will bring their own experiences and talents into WILLow LeaVes.

Miller will manage the restaurant, based on her seven years experience with the former Yellowtrail Restaurant — and being the mother of five children, she said.

However, since Miller also has 17 years experience as an artist, she expects to gradually turn over many of the culinary duties to an employee and focus more on the art center.

By working in the retail portion of the business, Tedder says she believes it will “give me my fix of buying, selling and playing with antiques” — something she’s been doing for 35 years.

“Antiques have been my life, but your house can only hold so much,” Tedder said.

Long said she will handle the business and marketing sides of WILLow LeaVes, as well as online services.

While the sisters know it will be a learning experience, the long-time Hope residents hope to — as Ringo Starr sang on the Beatles “Sgt. Pepper” album — get by with a little help from their friends.

For example, one friend wants to sell soaps and lotions made out of goat’s milk in the store, while another plans to display and sell homemade quilts, the sisters said.

“If other Hope residents have items on consignment, it will provide them with a sense of pride and ownership,” said Tedder, who hopes to persuade some of those residents to work in WILLow LeaVes on a part-time or volunteer basis.

The classes that will eventually be offered in arts and crafts may also generate a number of people who might want to spend a few hours a week in the store, Miller said.

New Hope businesses

The opening of WILLow LeaVes is just one of four recent business developments in Hope, town manager Melina Fox said.

  • Sports and Collectibles, featuring sports memorabilia, models and related supplies, is being set up in the former Media Exchange location on the south side of the town square.
  • Trudy Smith has taken over an existing photography studio in the town square.
  • While Laura and Tim Mead are running an antique business in a former service station on Hope’s south side, the couple is actively seeking a more visible location in the town square.

Meaning of "WILLow LeaVes"

The capitalization of certain letters in “WILLow LeaVes” reflects the names of the three sisters who own the establishment, as well as their parents.

WILLow:

  • Wasson, maiden name
  • Ike, father’s nickname
  • Lavon, mother’s name
  • Laura Miller, sister and owner

LeaVes:

  • Lisa Long, sister and owner
  • Vicki Tedder, sister and owner

The willow tree also symbolizes fulfilling wishes of the heart, learning from the past, inner-vision and dreams, the sisters said.      

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.