Charlotte Gray had an ulterior motive for recently opening Whimsies Treasures.
In the age of Amazon, she wanted to return “going shopping” into a community outing instead of the isolated, faceless, online transaction.
So she opened the small gift shop in downtown Oak Harbor, giving herself and other local artists a place to sell their small creative wares.
“I think people want to handle things and touch things,” says Gray, who specializes in covering household items and musical instruments into mosaic collages.
“I really love to watch people say, ‘Martha, look at this guitar. Isn’t that fun?’
“People are going back to shops, I really believe that,” says Gray, who retired recently from a career in human services education and family support.
While her store in the back of Oak Harbor Harborview Mall may be small, some 200-square feet, it’s packed with homemade products ranging from small dolls to driftwood boats, greeting cards to glass beads, handwoven hook rugs to handbags, totes to teas and tea cups.
“Oh, I still have a lot of places to put things,” she says, peering in and around displays she rearranges constantly.
Her biggest seller? Raspberry &Chocolate Jam from Chocolate Flower Farm in Langley. “People come in just for that,” she says.
Currently, a dozen artists are represented in her shop. She doesn’t require their work be juried like art galleries do, so the work ranges from finely-honed jewelry and glass work to more free-spirited paintings of pets and animals.
“Women have been making beautiful things forever and you don’t call it art,” she said. “But they are beautiful and they still take a lot of skill. I make things and look for things that are a bit different, a little odd.”
Making art out of recycled objects, known as up-cycling or re-purposing, is particularly popular, Gray said. One of the most colorful examples is her own. She collects empty metal boxes of Altoid breath mints, covers them in mosaic glass, beads and other bits and pieces and sells them as tiny treasure boxes for $12.
The shop gets 35 percent of sales and the artists 65 percent. She owns the art shop with her husband, Darrell, who also learned the art of mosaic. Prices range from $1 (for her own colorful magnets) to $250 for pieces of antique furniture.
The couple started out online at Etsy, selling their mosaic pieces under the name West Beach Mosaics.
In their garage-turned-studio, Charlotte and Darrell Gray top all kinds of pieces with colorful kaleidoscopes of mosaic glass cullet. The pieces she cuts from large sheets of art glass are sized into various shapes, arranged and fastened using adhesive and grout.
Stiletto high heels, wooden boxes, antique tables and small guitars become topped with a gleaming layer of glass.
Light switch plates are her biggest mosaic sellers, so she assumed the popularity would be similar at her store. But, it turns out, that’s the kind of item that sells better online, Gray said.
“I finally figured people walking around the store would be saying, ‘You know, I can’t remember what kind of light switch I have in what room.’ Whereas, when they’re home, they can walk around and see their walls and figure out what style to order.”
A display of teas and teas cups is courtesy of her daughter, who represents a company and provided a tea tasting at Whimsies’ grand opening in early March.
While talking to a customer, a teenager pops in his head, asking, “Do you know where Gizmo’s is?”
Gizmo’s is the skateboard shop that Gray replaced with Whimsies. Not only is her merchandise different, so is the decor.
“The walls had been painted black,” she said. “The painter said it took four coats of white to cover.”
With a gallery and other stores on SE Pioneer Way selling unusual and unique art, Gray hopes Whimsies Treasures is part of a growing trend, one that brings visitors to explore the old and new of Oak Harbor.
“I don’t think Old Town Oak Harbor is a destination but I think it will become one,” she said. “It would be really exciting if it does.”