By Sandra Zunino
It’s impossible to deny the appeal of the Country Petaller. Once entering the doors of this home décor, gift and floral shop on Kent Island, you are greeted with mesmerizing displays expounding on themes of home and family.
Braided rugs, handcrafted Amish furniture, linens, crafts, inspirational items, wreaths and floral arrangements are artfully presented in pleasing vignettes. An experience for the senses, tranquil music plays softly in the background. Scents from dried flowers, potpourri and candles fill the air.
Owned by Jim and Judy Villwock of Chester, the Country Petaller’s soothing charm is far from accidental. In college, Judy studied floriculture – cultivation and design of ornamental plants, as well as horticultural therapy – using plants as therapy to improve human well-being. It’s no wonder customers have told her a visit in the shop is better than therapy.
Judy says she loves the phrase, “home is where your story begins.” Consequently, that is the unifying element at the Country Petaller. “What a better goal to achieve, than to have it like that,” she says.
The Country Petaller’s story began 25 years ago with homemade spice balls and cinnamon clusters. “We used to raise and dry our own flowers to create our products,” says Judy.
What began with a couple card tables at a few craft shows grew to an annual holiday event called Santa’s Country Cottage. “We invited crafters to bring their products that we would display and sell for the weekend,” she explains. “That gave us variety.”
For the first few years, Santa’s Country Cottage operated out of a friend’s home in Bay City, then the Villwock’s garage. As the event grew, they moved to the Lowery’s Produce building in Chester. An annual springtime show was the next step.
Country Corner, a tiny shop in Stevensville, began wholesaling Judy’s flowers. When the owner decided to close the business, the Villwock’s took over the space and operated year-round. As business, along with the need for space grew, Country Petaller moved to the other side of that shopping plaza and expanded. Eventually, the Country Petaller relocated to the Narrows outlets, quadrupling their space.
“We figured when we moved that time we were going to have to become a destination because we were the only ones there,” says Judy.
One thing that remains constant is the use of local talent. The last Santa’s Country Cottage offered items from more than 50 crafters from a 50-mile radius. “We still have between 10 and 20 local crafters who contribute to the stock of the store,” says Judy.
Judy attributes the success of the shop to a team effort. Each of her long-standing employees contributes her own gift, from keeping things cleaned, stocked and organized, or executing Judy’s vision for the vignettes to contributing positive energy. Additionally, she says the business has been a family affair, with her children helping with floral harvesting and Jim, designing and building custom pieces. “He has been my biggest supporter,” she says.
Country Petaller’s latest move in November brought them to Red Apple Corner. Judy says she chose this location to be accessible to Rt. 18. She says she views the area as a central hub for Kent Island.
Judy says for the future, she would like to bring Country Petaller online to alert customers of specials and events. “We have six different events during the year, and it will be nice to have other businesses pull together and make an even bigger offering to the community,” she says.
One thing she promises her customers and employees is to stay put for a while.