2007-05-10 / Front Page

Family operated gift shop and art gallery celebrates 35 years

By Michaela Kennedy

Carol Anderson, Helen Anderson and Debbie Swistak have a lot to smile about with 35 years at Jamestown Designs. Photo by Jeff McDonough Carol Anderson, Helen Anderson and Debbie Swistak have a lot to smile about with 35 years at Jamestown Designs. Photo by Jeff McDonough Jamestown Designs turns 35 this week, and all are invited to an open house on Saturday, May 12, to celebrate the event. The shop is famous to locals for its custom framing, art and gifts offered with warm, island hospitality.

Helen Anderson and her two daughters, Carol Anderson and Deborah Swistak, are the founders of the store. They spoke candidly about their odyssey as a stream of customers passed through, some buying presents and others looking for jewelry. One visitor, back from a winter trip, was so happy to see Helen that he swept her into his arms for a dance. Everyone who walks through the doors is instantly charmed.

The three women launched the gift shop in 1972, just three years after the Newport Bridge opened. Their initial location was in the Hunt Block, the storefront row facing East Ferry, according to Deborah. With Helen's business knowledge and her daughters' ideas, they made a perfect team.

"Carol found a great showroom. It was like a mall, only everything was wholesale," Deborah said. In the first year, they bought pewter and wampum jewelry which is made from quahog shells. The women also sold plants, Virginia Mill crafted brass, and pottery. Children's books were a big seller, as they still are in the store today.

The family has stayed tight-knit through the years. "We got along wonderfully. They didn't want any trouble from mother," the older Anderson kidded her daughters.

Carol and Deborah both gave credit to their mother for the success of the business. "Mother kept a watchful eye on the finances, and did bookkeeping for many years," Deborah noted.

Helen brought professional savvy to the shop, the daughters agreed. Their father owned Anderson's Dairy Farm, and Helen was the office manager, doing everything from payroll to accounts payables, "She was the executive director of her day," Carol said.

Deborah remembered her mother coaching them by saying, "Buckle up." With Helen's encouragement, they always paid the bills, even in times when the economy was weak. "Mother said we needed to pay as we go," Deborah said.

Over the course of the years, challenges arose, no doubt. Yet the three maintained a bond that was strengthened by people close to them. They reminisced about Deborah's daughters joining the activities of the shop, and a longtime worker, Cheryl Parker, who is considered family. "Cheryl stepped up to the plate when we needed her," Deborah remarked. Carol agreed, adding, "Cheryl is invaluable to us."

Deborah's daughters, Julie and Katherine, became interested in the shop as they got older, and helped out. "We all go on buying trips together. The girls have a good eye and pick out nice things at the craft shows," Deborah noted. Caroline, Deborah and Carol's niece, also joined the clan.

The retail store is filled with specialty items, many one of a kind. "Our niche has evolved into finding goods made in America, particularly highlighting local artists," Carol noted. The store continues to offer custom-made framework, done on the premises.

In addition to the all-day open house event this Saturday, Jamestown Designs plans to hold a reception on May 25 to commemorate three and a half decades of retail service to the town. Details will follow as Memorial weekend draws closer.

For more information about Jamestown Designs, visit online at www.jamestowndesigns.com or call 423-0344.

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