A Shop Filled With Nostalgia, Timeless Quality
By Angie Landsverk
Ede Votta was returning from a job interview when she saw a “For Rent” sign in the window of a small retail space and decided to take a leap of faith and open a gift shop.
“In that moment, reflecting on my extensive retail background, I thought that perhaps I was better off not trying to work for someone else, given my responsibilities at home — that just maybe I could do something on my own,” she said. “As the mother of two young children, it sounded sensible to me. I would be close to home, as well as my children’s schools, and my schedule could be flexible to my family’s needs. With my family’s full support, I decided to go for it!”
Ede opened Bittersweet & Ivy 17 years ago. Her gift shop is located in North Scituate, a village in Rhode Island that dates back to 1710 when settlers from Scituate, Massachusetts, made the area their home.
Her store is on the first floor of a building that was constructed in 1831. Ede moved there about 14 years ago from a slightly smaller space across the street.
“The name of the shop came from a collaboration with my family, drawing inspiration from the Christmas carol ‘The Holly and The Ivy,’” Ede said. “I was drawn to the nostalgic feel of the carol but did not want to be pigeonholed as exclusively a Christmas store since I am open year-round and offer décor for every season. We finally settled on replacing the ‘holly’ with ‘bittersweet,’ a plant that grows abundantly in our area.”
A Retail Background
Ede has a degree in business from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. She worked for the former Boston-based department store Filene’s for years, followed by becoming a manager for The TJX Companies, Inc.
Opening a small business on her own was a completely new experience. “Coming from a big store background, it took me some time to realize that everything is on a much, much smaller scale than in a multi-million-dollar corporation. I made my share of mistakes in misjudging how much merchandise was practical and how much to invest in advertising and other overhead expenses.
“The volatile economy has also been a challenge, along with unforeseeable occurrences like COVID-19. Over time, I learned to curb my overzealous buying urges, at least to some degree, and I have resisted encouragement to expand to a much larger space — I have come to appreciate that bigger isn’t always better, especially during economically challenging times. I have learned to trust myself more in terms of merchandise choices and that what works well in one store will not necessarily be successful in another,” Ede said.
The Product Mix
When she opened Bittersweet & Ivy, she was influenced by what she found most appealing in the stores she visited as a shopper. “At the time, primitive décor was very popular here, and I filled my space with décor pieces primarily in that style. I had always loved candles, so I wanted to carry the best ones I could find as well,” Ede said. “Over the years, I’ve noticed less of a demand for primitive items. However, my love of pretty, old-fashioned things with a nostalgic flair has continued to dominate my merchandise selections; luckily for me, my customers seem to love those things, too!”
As Ede noticed her customers were also often shopping for gifts or looking for little pick-me-ups, she slowly added personal items and gift lines. “It was a good decision,” Ede said. “It has broadened my shop’s appeal and also has brought in more young shoppers.”
Customers find candles, faux florals, accent lighting, and décor in the shop. Much of it is seasonal, with a country or vintage style. “Over the years, I have added a smaller assortment of jewelry, as well as scarves, fine soaps, and greeting cards. I take great pride in sourcing as many of these items as possible from Rhode Island and New England artisans,” she said.
Ede’s most popular items include candles, faux florals — often purchased as the arrangements she puts together — and seasonal décor. “With wholesale prices skyrocketing, I work very hard to search out pieces that are beautiful but still affordable. I want everyone who visits my shop to be able to take something home that they love,” she said.
Most of her customers are women who take pride in their homes and love to decorate for different seasons of the year. “They enjoy shopping for pretty things — either for their homes or for gifts that can’t be found at larger stores. I am often visited by mothers and daughters, or groups of sisters, or friends out for a day of shopping,” Ede said.
The Shopping Experience
Her goal is to create an atmosphere that is both comfortable and comforting, with warm lighting, soft music, and pleasant fragrance, surrounding a décor collection that conjures up nostalgic memories of a gentler time. “I steer away from the contemporary and trendy, preferring to offer pieces with a timeless quality,” she said. “Folks often come in at the end of a stressful day, plop down in my well-worn armchair, and just seem to sigh with relief at leaving behind the harsh world outside. I am so happy to be able to offer respite to my world-weary visitors, as well as an inviting place to shop.”
Customers describe her shop as warm, welcoming, and always smelling good. Many say she carries items they do not see elsewhere.
Providing excellent customer service is Ede’s top priority. She offers shipping, curbside pickup, and local delivery, when possible, for customers who prefer those options. Her approach is driven by her own shopping experiences, as well as the extensive customer service training she received long ago at Filene’s.
“My goal is to make every customer feel valued and special because they are! I go out of my way to find things my customers are searching for if I don’t have them and have spent hours calling around and checking websites for their desired items,” she said. “People are incredibly appreciative of my extra efforts, even when not successful, and I am happy to do it.”
Ede often gift wraps customers’ purchases with her signature bags, seasonal tissue, and homespun ties. “During the Christmas season, I sometimes tie a decorative ornament on the bags, too — my customers love this little touch, and some have told me they have a whole tree decorated with just my gift ornaments,” she said. “I always wrap my customers’ purchases in tissue, no matter how small, because I believe each selection should be treated as special in a specialty store. A few times a year, I offer a gift with purchase as a show of appreciation for my visitors’ patronage, and I do not make it exclusive to customers spending a certain amount — every purchaser gets one.”
Events are hosted by members of the small-business community. This includes a shop hop before Mother’s Day and a Candlelight Stroll around Christmas.
“We often use these opportunities to raise funds for worthy causes, such as heating assistance to local residents, canned goods for our food pantry, or toys for children during the holidays,” she said. Ede also supports churches, schools, and organizations by donating merchandise and gift certificates for their events and activities.
Advice for Others
“I think that to be successful requires a lot of tenacity and perseverance — trends come and go, shops open and close, the economy wavers, and while it is important to keep pace with such changes, I believe that it’s important to stay true to your identity and style,” Ede said. “Every shop has a personality, and being consistent strengthens your bond to customers with whom that personality resonates. It’s impossible to be everything to everyone.”
Through the years, Ede tried a variety of marketing and advertising techniques before settling on a few print publications for most of her advertising — one local and one more regional. She relies on social media and occasional newsletters to keep in touch with customers and promote new merchandise and events.
Her favorite part of having the shop is the people she meets. “I have the nicest customers that anyone could imagine, and many have become friends who I care deeply about,” Ede said. “The same can be said about some of the smaller makers I deal with. I have known some of these folks since I opened 17 years ago, and I consider them friends now, not just ‘sources.’ I get tremendous satisfaction from making my customers happy and helping them find just the right thing.”
Facts at a Glance
Business Name: Bittersweet & Ivy
Location: 171 Danielson Pike, P.O. Box 682, North Scituate, RI 02857
Store Size: 900 sq. ft.
Trade Shows Attended: Market Square, N.E. Made
Product Categories: candles, florals, accent lighting, seasonal décor, select women’s accessories, stationery, bath and body products
Social Media: Facebook, Instagram