NEW MARKET — It all started two years ago with a basket full of mulberries on a warm summer afternoon, Debbie Oden said.
Oden, who lives in Mount Jackson, has some Mulberry trees in her backyard. One day, her son decided to pick a basket worth and asked her if she could make some jelly.
“I never make jelly,” Oden said. “I think I only made it a couple times when the kids were young, but that was it … I told him I’d pretty much forgotten how to do it.”
But like riding a bike, once she got in the kitchen, it all came back to her. Not only did she make jelly, she made good jelly, she said. When she went to her shift as a customer service manager at the Mount Jackson Food Lion, she kept looking at the produce.
“I’d see the fruit and think, maybe that would make a good jelly,” Oden said.
So she started making all sorts of flavors, mango, pineapple, cherry, blackberry, raspberry and of course, grape. When fall rolled around, she went to area crafts festivals and sold her jelly, last year clearing 100 jars in three days.
It was at the New Market festival that she noticed a store front with a round window for rent on Congress Street.
“You don’t see shops with round windows around here,” Oden said. “Me and my family were trying to decide what direction to take the jelly, so we were thinking about opening a shop … we looked around in it with the building owner and it felt good, it felt right. It was perfect.”
When January rolled around, Oden found herself renting out the storefront.
Open since late March, Mystic Willow is New Market’s newest shop, offering visitors and locals alike locally made artisan crafts, including Oden’s jelly. The goods are sold on consignment for crafts people in the Mount Jackson and New Market area.
Oden said her business, which is run by her, her son and her daughter-in-law, is “family oriented” and is not “out to make a million dollars.”
“I just want to provide a place for artisans and artists around here to sell their wares,” she said. “I am trying to provide an avenue for the folks.”
Having worked as a secretary for 32 years in Shenandoah County Public Schools and as a customer service manager at the Mount Jackson Food Lion for 18 years, Oden said she brings a combination of business smarts and a friendly touch to her shop.
“All my life, I’ve been counting other people’s money, so keeping the books on the place isn’t too much for me to do,” she said. “The thing I’ve learned the most over the years is how to handle customers who might not be having the best day and talk through their problems.”
While New Market is home to antique and decoration shops, Oden said her focus on locally hand made “primitives” sets her store apart from the rest.
“I’ve never had anybody really compare what we sell to other shops in town,” Oden said. “Primitives are a hot item these days … a lot of people are looking for that quality craftsmanship you just can’t buy from a big box store.”
She said while she does have a few antiques, such as a turn of the century Singer sewing machine or a brush and mirror shaving set, she has “tried really hard” to make sure it’s not an antique store.
“I absolutely love antiques, so it’s kind of hard for me to make sure we don’t turn into that,” she said. “There’s a lot of people selling antiques around here, so we’re trying to sell to a different market.”
Oden said she hopes to never move from her spot on Congress Street and would like to hand her business over to her grandchildren one day.
“I got three granddaughters, the oldest being 11, so I hope in the next couple of years, maybe we can get them in here,” she said.
The greatest thing about her business is knowing she helped a local artisans sell their work and to “make a customer’s day,” Oden said.
“I like helping people, knowing I helped make them happy,” she said. “It’s good to know I’m helping local artists get their stuff out there … and with my jelly, I’m happy to know it could be going on a 7-year-old child’s sandwich for school.”
Mystic Willow is located at 9396 South Congress St. in New Market. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, with hours varying during the week. Hours of operation for the week are posted on Saturdays.
Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org