A unique Thomas boutique offers a place for regional artisans to sell their wares.
Shelagh Sitterson spends most weekends driving to the tiny town of Thomas from her home in the Washington, D.C., area. She and her husband, Franz Harb, own THOMASYARD, a charming flower and gift shop nestled in Thomas’s main shopping district. They enjoy their frequent visits. The local bank still requires them to write paper checks when it’s time for employees to be paid, further ensuring the couple never stays away for long.
THOMASYARD itself almost feels like it belongs in a different time, but in the best possible way. Walking through the shop’s eclectic assortment of locally sourced gifts, flowers, foods, art, and antiques, you might feel like you’re embarking on a treasure hunt. Rows of jams, wines, candles, and soaps, all handmade by residents of West Virginia or nearby states, neatly line the shelves. Hand-knit scarves, shiny pottery displays, and intricate woodworking projects sit in every corner, further evidence of talented artisans in the region. Photo albums feature custom THOMASYARD wedding bouquets, and vintage typewriters adorn the back wall. Coffee, roasted right here in West Virginia, is for sale at the front counter. And that’s just scratching the surface.
“We’re a little bit of something for everyone,” says Lauren Paslawsky, who began working at THOMASYARD earlier this year. The staff speak of their vendors like family. They’re proud of the work that surrounds them, and it’s easy to see why. “We have a lot of local talent,” says Tyler Elliott, another employee. “So we try to provide a space for them.”
Sitterson and Harb aren’t West Virginia natives. She spent most of her childhood in Wisconsin, and he’s originally from Bolivia. They met in Reston, Virginia, in 1993, where Harb was a real estate appraiser and Sitterson worked at a bank he regularly visited. They first put down West Virginia roots in 1999, when they bought a house with friends in Davis, just a couple miles from Thomas. Then, in 2001, they purchased a home in Thomas itself, immersing themselves in its small, tight-knit population. Thanks in no small part to THOMASYARD, that connection to the town endures even though their time is split between Thomas and Washington, D.C.
Harb and Sitterson have operated THOMASYARD since 2015, when they bought it from a friend who was moving away. Back then, it was strictly a flower shop. It’s changed names, expanded its stock, and moved a few doors down the street, but the couple’s goal for it is as clear as ever—cultivating a community. It’s the people who lovingly craft the goods they sell and those who spend their time gleefully sifting through their inventory who matter most to the owners. Sitterson loves the “appreciation of people who get excited about what they find in the store,” she says. “And then my vendors, who get so excited that somebody liked what they made—that’s been the most rewarding thing.”
A “typical” find doesn’t really exist at THOMASYARD, and the shop’s clientele is similar. Patrons come from near and far, and for different reasons, Sitterson says. She estimates about half of their customers are tourists looking for a memory or keepsake, and half are loyal locals who can’t stay away. Sitterson hopes to expand the THOMASYARD brand with more new, in-house products eventually, but they’ll never stop offering a home to the vendors they’ve grown so close to.
Sitterson’s passion for THOMASYARD is undeniable, but it’s when she offers to give a tour of the rest of the town that the spirit of her mission shines through most. As she happily strolls through the drizzling rain, she speaks less of her own shop and more of its neighbors. She points to each of the inviting stores flanking her own, and runs through the names of their owners. She knows whether the owners are likely to be working today themselves, and what they might be doing if they’re not. She knows how each came to own their properties and what future plans they’re working toward. She says how kind each owner is, or how talented, or how a visitor simply must stop and browse their products before leaving town.
That sense of community—of former strangers embracing each other and cobbling together something remarkable and unique from seemingly mismatched pieces—is definitive of Thomas. It’s also the very essence of THOMASYARD, and what makes the shop an experience that can’t be missed. 284 State Hwy 32, Thomas, 304.463.4999, thomasyard.com
written by Taylor Maple
photographed by Nikki Bowman Mills
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