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By Josette Keelor -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- Even before walking through the front doors of Valley Furniture Country Interiors in Stephens City, a hint of what's inside greets potential customers. Bee skeps and small topiaries, a birdhouse and wreaths decorate the porch outside the old white building.
A sign nearby describes the store's offerings as primitive, an adjective owners Marlene and Alton Mangum reiterate, but the word doesn't even come close to describing what the 40-year-old business encompasses.
Inside, the spicy scent of potpourri and candles hits visitors before layers of country style furniture and decorations do. Black metal lanterns sit on a shelf along a wall to the right of the front door. Underneath, a reproduction map mainly of Virginia and Maryland, by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, is dated to 1775.
Above the old country store counter to the left of the door, wooden crates are piled on a high shelf. Colonial style chandeliers with flicker candles hang from wooden rafters.
Instrumental music floats throughout the store, lifted on the breeze entering through the front door. Through the windows, across U.S. 11, the Blue Ridge rises in the distance.
"There's not too many shops like this," says Mrs. Mangum. "This is more of a specialty shop."
When the Mangums moved to the area from Maryland in 1971, they never thought their furniture stripping business would turn into what it did. Now, 40 years later, the building that housed their at-home business is a furniture store, gift shop and antique parlor all built into one. Next door, in the building they once called home, is The Miller House, the contemporary furniture store the Mangums' daughter, Brenda Miller, and her husband, Kevin, run. Both couples now live in Middletown.
"Forty years," Mrs. Mangum says. "I still enjoy it."
She and her husband had no idea what the future would hold for them when they moved here, but now, as they prepare to celebrate 40 years of business and 50 years of marriage this year, neither has any intention of quitting yet.
"I'm not ready for that. I'm having too much fun," says Mrs. Mangum, 72.
"I guess I never thought that we would be here for 40 years," she says. "Most of the time it's fun, very enjoyable."
They kept Valley Furniture Stripping for about eight years. "And then we sold the Tom Seely furniture for what, 15 years," she says. "And then our daughter and son-in-law took over that."
"I was supposed to downsize," says Mangum, 75. Instead, he turned the former auction house behind the country store into a storage building and later added another storage building behind that.
"It just sort of evolved from that," Mrs. Mangum says. "[We] started carrying more reproduction furniture. ... All of our furniture is all American made."
Mrs. Mangum says Seely furniture became Caperton and then Gat Creek, which is what the Millers sell now.
The Mangums sell colonial style upholstered furniture by Johnston Benchworks, and Lawrence Crouse, out of West Virginia, among others.
"He makes all of our Windsor chairs," Mrs. Mangum says, and a Lawrence Crouse canopy bed sits in a room at the back of the store.
Customers come from all over, "'Cause this is kind of unique," her husband says.
"We're not just a furniture store, we carry a lot of gifts," Mrs. Mangum says.
Lamps are the most noticeable decoration around the store. Street lamps, lanterns, floor lamps, book lamps -- many with electric candles in place of light bulbs -- sit on floors, perch on tables or reach down to customers from the ceiling.
"We like antiques ourselves. They just go together with reproductions," Mrs. Mangum says. Still, she stresses that the store is not an antique shop.
"A lot of things are made to look old, but they're not old," she says. Items are marked if they are old, she says.
They sell a lot of pewter, she says, and Windsor chairs. The colonial chandeliers are also a big hit.
In the back room, shelves of linens next to the Lawrence Crouse canopy evoke a simpler time when one might have used the metal shaving station situated beside it.
Signs in the main room read "Old Virginia Tobacco" and "Pure Honey."
Customers come from as far away as North Carolina and Ohio, sometimes farther, Mrs. Mangum says. One couple from Michigan comes to the furniture store every time they visit family in the valley, she says.
"We do have people that like this look, that like the colonial look. So we really do have customers who come from all over."
On a recent hot morning, the building, without air conditioning, remains comfortable with its original cement floors and lofty ceilings. The store still quiet at 10:30 a.m., the Mangums take a breather while peacefully celebrating their landmark anniversary.
Summer, especially this year, has been slow for the family business, but the Mangums expect business to pick up in the fall. It always does.
"In fall and [at] Christmas, it's always been our best time of year," Mrs. Mangum says.
Already the Mangums are preparing for the harvest. Their storage building is quickly filling with Christmas wreaths and other seasonal decorations, and the Mangums anticipate the reintroduction of the holiday potpourri.
"One of our best sellers in the fall and [at] Christmas is potpourri," her husband says.
Marmelade-scented potpourri is the most popular, Mrs. Mangum says. A close second is The Smell of Christmas.
They also expect the upcoming anniversary event and the fall festival in September to bring a crowd.
"People like the rustic feel of the building," Mrs. Mangum says.
Her husband agrees.
"In this area," he says, "they don't have something like this."