Paula Mullins loves to talk to her customers, helping them pick out items at The Carpenter’s Loft Primitives and More or just catching up on their daily lives.
She likes doing it in person.
When Covid-19 closed all non-essential businesses earlier this year, however, Mullins got creative, taking to social media.
“We did online videos and walked around the store showing different merchandise,” she says. “I would stay on my phone all day and all night taking pictures and answering questions.”
Her store was closed to foot traffic and her employees were home, but Mullins, accompanied by a friend who volunteered her time, opened three days a week, taking phone orders and delivering items to customers’ cars.
“Sometimes I would go out there with my little notepad like a waitress,” she says. “All I needed was roller skates. But they knew exactly what they wanted from the store.”
Mullins says she worried when the order to close came in but found the support of her customers was even stronger than when the store operated on a regular schedule.
“I was so worried, but God blesses me,” she says. “You cannot out-give God, honestly. I was shocked with the outpouring of the community and how everybody just rallied around.
“They could have shopped online but they chose to shop with me.”
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June marked the 10th anniversary for The Carpenter’s Loft, but Mullins, a native of Cirtsville in Fayette County, who now calls Pax home, began her business a few years before in Mount Hope.
“I’ve always had a love for antiques and primitives, so I decided to give it a shot,” she says of her original venture, which she called the Rusty Daisy.
Business in Mount Hope was slow going, though, so she decided to relocate to Beckley.
“There were days I would sit there and not make $25,” she recalls. “Location truly is everything.”
Mullins did more than just change the location of her business in June 2010. She upgraded from 600 square feet of space to 2,500.
And the Rusty Daisy became The Carpenter’s Loft.
“I changed the name because Jesus was a carpenter and I love Jesus,” she says.
Mullins makes use of every bit of additional space in her “new” location, as she offers up a mix of farmhouse primitives.
“Instead of the blacks and burgundies that were always so popular, I’m painting things white and grays, and giving them a fresh look,” she says. “You’ve gotta change with the times and try to be original.
“I’m primitive at heart, but you have to try to look at things with a different view.”
Customers can shop for items including braided rugs, quilts, placemats, cannisters, dishes, vases, lighting, handmade dolls and yard art.
Mullins says Christmas and the Fourth of July are popular holidays as customers buy patriotic decorations and items and Christmas trees, ornaments and lights.
Hand-dipped silicone lighting is also popular as Mullins says she dips twinkling strands of lights in just about any color a customer wants.
“I do red and green for Christmas or if someone lives at the beach and wants seafoam blue, I do that,” she says. “Whatever they want.”
The most popular items in the store, she says, can be smelled before they’re seen.
“Candles and tarts are my No. 1 best seller overall,” she says. “People like for their houses to smell good. When your house smells good, whether it’s clean or not, you feel good about it.”
She says Hot Maple Toddy by Candleberry, the scent she burns in the store, is the most popular “It’s wonderful,” she says, adding she’s had a difficult time keeping it in stock lately. “I tell people it’s like toilet paper because I’m sold out and I’m having a hard time getting more.”
Although women are her most frequent customers, she says The Carpenter’s Loft attracts its share of men, too.
“There’s a lot of men who like primitives,” she says. “And they come in for the car fresheners because guys like their cars to smell good.”
She also offers a men’s corner with a large tub of old tools.
“Men like to dig in that washtub full of old junk,” she says. “I’ve got old screwdrivers with wooden handles. There’s a lot of people who collect that stuff.”
And if a man just wants to pop in and out, she says she offers gift cards for the woman in his life.
“I have one customer who comes to get a $500 or $1,000 gift card for his wife every year for Christmas and she shops all year with it,” she says.
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Mullins says primitives are special to her because they remind her of her family.
“Family means a lot to me,” she says. “Growing up I lived beside my grandmother. She had a huge family – seven kids, 21 grandchildren – we would play in the mud. We’d make mudpies. Me and her would pick poke greens and cook them all day on the stove. She taught me how to garden and how to grow flowers. It’s just those things she instilled in me. We walked the railroad tracks to church every Wednesday and Sunday. And it’s just those memories have made me who I am. I’ve always loved the primitives. I remember her and those mixing bowls and handheld beaters, cooking in the kitchen.
“Those were the days.”
She says she thinks perhaps the lessons people are learning through the experience of Covid-19 might mark a return to some of those simpler times.
“I think we’ve come back to those days now a little bit as people spend time together at home,” she says. “There’s more gardening and planting and they see how much family means.”
Mullins says she’s happy to have her doors back open and her staff back at work and although she says she’s “shy,” she still does Facebook Live videos to promote new items once a week.
“I have the best customers in the world,” she says. “There’s so many places they can shop and I am just honored they picked to shop with me.”
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The Carpenter’s Loft is at 277 Market Road in Beckley.
Mullins says she will ship items and deliver locally. Layaway options are available.