A Restorative Experience for the Senses

By Angie Landsverk

Melissa Foster loves people and always wanted to own a retail store where people could walk in and receive what she describes as “medicine for the soul.”

She opened Thyme In A Basket in Tappahannock, Virginia, in June 2014. “I wanted a place that seeks to bring peace, solitude, and inspiration to everyone who enters,” Melissa said.

Melissa is a basket weaver and did craft shows for many years while also teaching basket weaving. “When I decided to stop doing shows and open a retail space, I kept my name from that business,” she said. “It is really a play on words and how long it takes to weave a basket.”

Melissa and Roy Foster.
Thyme In A Basket’s annual Christmas Open House was in early November.

Tappahannock is a town of just over 2,000 people. It is located on the Rappahannock River at the intersection of Route 17, which runs all the way up the East Coast, and Route 360, which runs from the Chesapeake Bay to Richmond, Virginia, and beyond, Melissa said.

“The word ‘Tappahannock’ is a Native American word meaning ‘town on the rise and fall of water.’ In 1608, English explorer John Smith landed in Tappahannock. The area surrounding the town is rural farm country with beautiful views of farmland and the river throughout the area,” she said.

Melissa rents the building in which her business is located and describes Thyme In A Basket as a “safe haven from our messy yet beautiful world.”

Melissa Foster chooses products that speak to her.
This hot chocolate area offers lots of gift ideas.

She explained how her back­ground and past experiences have helped her. “I started a degree in accounting and then switched to a degree in religious education,” Melissa said. “The two prepared me well, with the accounting providing essential skills to run the fiscal side of the business and the religious education part providing an appre­ciation for everyone regardless of their beliefs.”

Inside the shop, customers find gifts, home accessories, women’s accessories, jewelry, vintage furniture, and repurposed furniture. “We purchase our furniture from local auctions, and my husband does repairs as needed, repurposes, if necessary,” Melissa said. “We also have puzzles and games, which promote family fun.”

When she opened the store, Melissa started with more home décor items. She has gradually shifted to having more books, self-care products, family fun time items, as well as products made by local artists, in Virginia, or in the United States.

“I focus on unique gifts with an emphasis on inspiration, self-care, and positivity. I am not brand-driven but rather curate gifts that speak to me,” she said. “When people enter my store, I want all of their senses to have a restorative experience that includes smiles and laughter.”

Products selling well for Melissa include Outset Media puzzles and games, Elizabeth Paige Candles (formerly known as Isle Candle Co.), Snoozies, Bates Family Farm lotions, Anne Vaughan Jewelry, European Soaps, Warmies, and Compendium books. “I could go on and on, but these are our best sellers,” she said.

Many of those products are made in the Southeast. Elizabeth Paige Candles is a South Carolina company that manufactures soy lotion candles, and they are a favorite at Melissa’s store. Bates Family Farm is a Virginia company owned by a veteran, and Anne Vaughan is a Virginia artisan.

Not being brand-driven is what sets her store apart from oth­ers in the area, Melissa said. “I purchase what I like. If I don’t like it, I cannot sell it. I think people should make themselves happy — not be like everyone else,” she said.

Many of Melissa’s customers are traveling through the region, while others have second homes in the rural area. “Most of my customers are not interested in being like everyone else — hence the reason they are attracted to my uniqueness,” she said.

Her customers often comment on the unique selection of products available in the store, as well as Melissa’s displays and great customer service. “I offer free gift wrapping for all gifts, and most importantly, I treat every customer like family,” she said. “I try to greet everyone that comes into the store.”

She enjoys interacting with her customers. Melissa does not have an online store but will ship an item if someone has seen it on Facebook or Instagram.

The special events at Thyme In A Basket include spring, fall, and Christmas open houses. She also has food tastings and recently had some new, local authors do book signings there. In addition, Melissa has taught basket weaving classes in her store.

She connects with her community in many ways. “I have adopted teachers in our local elementary school as a secret pal — providing gifts to let them know how much they are appreciated throughout the year. I am a Friends of the Library,” Melissa said. “I have supported The Haven, a local women’s shelter for women and children of domestic abuse. I support our sheriff’s office and local fire department with donations and am a sponsor of the Keep Virginia Beautiful campaign in our county (Essex).”

The biggest challenge Melissa has faced since opening Thyme In A Basket was learning how to work on a computer. “I knew nothing. I have had to learn everything, including Facebook and Instagram,” she said. “I have no background in marketing, so I have had to work really hard to learn about getting people to visit the store.”

Her advice to those who have just opened a store is to enjoy what they are doing and never stop learning. When asked what she likes best about what she does, Melissa said, “I love the inter­esting people I meet every day.”

Facts at a Glance

Business Name: Thyme In A Basket
Location: 325 Queen St., Tappahannock, VA 22560
Website: thymeinabasket.com
Email: thymeinabasket@hotmail.com
Phone: 804-443-4626
Employees: 1 (but her husband helps a lot)
Size: 1,800 sq. ft.
Trade Shows Attended: AmericasMart in Atlanta, Georgia
Product Categories: Gifts, home accessories, women’s accessories, jewelry, vintage furniture
Social Media: Facebook, Instagram
POS System: talech

Candles are among the best sellers at Melissa Foster’s shop.