Finding a gift for someone is hard, but finding a gift that communicates a message to the recipient is even harder. Gifts should not be just physical objects that can be picked up randomly from any old shop. That’s what Kate Shrewsbury, owner of Harriet’s General in Culpeper, Virginia, believes anyway. Every item at Harriet’s General, particularly the vintage pieces, has had a journey of sorts before arriving in a customer’s shopping bag. In addition to the uniqueness and quality of the products, their origin is another important aspect.
American-Made at Heart
For the past five years at Harriet’s General, customers did not need to check out where any of the displayed items were manufactured, since everything was made in the USA. Kate believed that during times of uncertainty in the global market, it was very important for Americans to buy American-made products. By buying goods made here and supporting independent businesses, customers are ultimately contributing to a more stable and brighter future for the country. A sign, clearly visible from the front doors, proclaims: “If every consumer spent just 5% more on USA made goods, it would create nearly 1,000,000 USA jobs and assist in the building of the U.S. economy.”
Rebranding Through Expanding Inventory
Harriet’s General proudly contributed five meaningful years to the American-made movement and will continue to do so. However, considering the tremendous competition caused by the rapid increase in online shopping, the high price-point of American-made goods, and the accompanying decline in their sales, the shop recently announced a decision to rebrand itself. Several months ago, Harriet’s General expanded its inventory to focus more on eclectic vintage items while still highlighting small American businesses. Kate and husband, Acie, look forward to receiving the same support from their customers as they received during the first five years.
As customers enter Harriet’s General, they’ll immediately spot a wide range of offerings. The wood on the walls — from a Rappahannock County, Virginia, barn that was torn down — serves as the perfect background for the veritable kaleidoscope of color. On second look, visitors will see unusual, hard-to-find gifts and nostalgic merchandise. The store features Frye and Lucchese boots, Red Wing Heritage, as well as jewelry, Filson, note cards, candles, and much more.
According to Kate, it took the store two months from start to finish for remodeling the space, ordering inventory, and getting it up and running. It is too soon to know what the most popular items might be at Harriet’s General after its rebranding but, according to Kate, a few things will definitely catch the attention of shoppers. “Our men’s section has been very popular,” she said. “Some of the things here are hard to find. We have a number of home items and, under the front counter, there are old-fashioned toys.”
Kate and Acie have been very pleased with the downtown Culpeper, Virginia, business community. They also appreciate the suppliers whom they have dealt with. “The quality is tremendous,” Kate said. “Some things might be a little more expensive but in things like the khakis, socks, and leather goods, you can just feel the quality.”
Acie worked for UPS for 28 years, so being a full-time shopkeeper was a transition for him. “With UPS I walked seven or eight miles a day,” he said. “Now I’m just standing on concrete. But I enjoy mixing it up with the folks that come in.”
Unlike Acie, Kate has been in retail for quite some time, and many of the visitors at Harriet’s General recognized her from Pepperberries, another locally owned boutique. “I’ve been in retail for 25 years and always wanted to open my own store,” Kate said.
Kate’s first experience with retail dates back to when she was about 8 years old. Her grandmother, Harriet Harrell, managed the UNICEF shop in Carmel for over a decade and Kate used to spend a month every summer with her.
Harriet was an interesting woman, whom Kate described as “an American original” with a formidable nature. She loved her city, and more than anything else, she loved her country. Harriet was known to hold everyone she loved and everything she did to a high standard. Harriet was always quick to let her granddaughter know when she didn’t meet her expectations, but the formidable ways of her grandmother served her very well.
Among the many things Kate learned from Harriet — ever since that first day at age 8 when she was put to work at her UNICEF shop — are her love for country, her love for family, and her love for creating a showplace of quality. And the most important thing she inherited from Harriet is her entrepreneurial spirit.
A Life of Service That Carries Over to Retail
And it’s not just Harriet who devoted her life to others, Both of Kate’s grandfathers served in World War II, her father served in Vietnam, and her mother served with the Peace Corps in Malawi. Kate also hopes to carry on this tradition of service while following the rule of moving “ever onward,” as her grandmother would say. So belonging to a family with a tradition of service, Kate doesn’t consider Harriet’s General just a business opportunity. Rather, she hopes to showcase the best of the American-made revival movement and share her love of country with her customers.
And who can forget Harriet while carrying on her legacy? As a tribute to the family matriarch, Kate named the store after her. As for the word “General” in the store’s name, Kate said, “We wanted to use ‘general’ for our store because we offer a lot of different things and because my grandfather was a general in the Army. So the name is kind of a play on words.”
But naming the store after Harriet wasn’t enough for Kate to pay tribute to her inspiring grandmother, so she decided to design the store’s initial logo (or to be more particular, her goodbye wave) after her. “At the end of each summer, my brother and I boarded an 8 to 10 seater plane for the trip to San Francisco and our flight home. I turned for a last look at my grandmother and, there was Harriet standing on the roof of the airport in Monterey, giving me her movie-star smile and the grand wave with her arm straight up in the air.”
Q&A with Kate Shrewsbury of Harriet’s General
Smart Retailer (SR): What do you believe sets your store apart?
Harriet’s General (HG): The variety of merchandise we sell. I think it’s important to target all age groups, ethnicity, backgrounds, and styles.
(SR): What traits do you have that you find makes you successful in retail?
(HG): The love of the unusual, and a mother who is great with finance!
(SR): What are you most passionate about?
(HG): Making the customer feel welcome. Every customer who enters our store is — in my mind — entering my home.
(SR): How do you inject that passion into your business?
(HG): Being kind to everyone and carrying products that relay that message.