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Lavender & Lace fading from downtown

Owner largely blames pandemic for decline

FRANKLIN

Barbara Nixon is shuttering her clothing and gift boutique, Lavender & Lace, on Second Avenue in downtown Franklin. She points a big finger at the COVID-19 pandemic as the chief cause. “COVID. I can’t say it enough.”
Previous to making her decision around Feb. 8, “I had a long, hard conversation with my hubby [Charles],” Nixon said. “With COVID and the uncertainty of the [business] environment, I feel it’s time to go.”

Before the pandemic was felt in Western Tidewater last year, she had already stocked up on items for the upcoming spring and summer seasons. The businesswoman said she ultimately had to sell most at 50% to 75% off, and yet, she added, “Sales were actually better in 2020 than they were in 2019.”

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Two other downtown businesses that have been significantly affected by the pandemic are The Travel Girl Company and the Franklin Crafters Gallery.

Brigitte Bradshaw, aka “the Travel Girl,” had her place on Middle Street just yards away from L&L. She had opened quite optimistically in mid-June 2020, but by September had to leave the brick-and-mortar site because of the expense. Now Bradshaw’s working from home and, though Bradshaw describes the travel business as “a rollercoaster,” she remains hopeful.

The gallery, which opened in 2019, had to temporarily close in mid-March last year, though the proprietor Kelli Jo Judas, kept busy making masks — over 5,000 — which she gave away. Her hope was to reopen that July.

On the Facebook page, she wrote in late December, “I am truly sorry that I could not make the Gallery prosper for you. Do not let my inability to bring in customers discourage you from continuing to create. I had hoped and worked for more for you. I really don’t have a good answer to why it did not work, but then if I did know I would have found a way to fix it. Thank you for being my Gallery family.”

In contrast, Teresa Beale, executive director of the Franklin-Southampton Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that there has been a handful of businesses to open in the past year: the restaurant Serve began right before the pandemic; there’s Belmont, Parker Peanuts, the Vine, the Key Clinic and soon, Virginia Outdoors, to be located on the corner of Second Avenue and Main Street.

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Before first opening her shop in summer 2018, Nixon had a 40-year career helping medical practices with their setups, billing and collecting. Going into retail was a personal dream, and she started as a vendor selling new and used items within a mini-mall in Emporia.

As Nixon has long since learned, “Retail is 24/7 and very stressful.”

Referring again to the pandemic, she said the cost for related sanitation supplies ran about $3,000. “I didn’t want to play store anymore.”

She is quick to credit those who have helped make the store a local success.

“My loyal customers, the Franklin, Southampton Economic Development Inc. and Downtown Franklin Association were instrumental for to be able to stay open,” said Nixon. “The DFA worked hard to get downtown merchants together.”

Her fan base, which she said is a strong following, will appreciate that Nixon’s not going away entirely. She’s moving her business online and will be found on her store’s Facebook page. There’s also consideration about going to Suffolk or Smithfield. Either way, there’ll still be quality merchandise and affordable prices.

Overall, Nixon does not regret her time in a brick-and-mortar site.

“I do not feel that I have failed,” she said.