NORTH KINGSTOWN – At Rhonda Barner’s new shop, Mr. Willoughby’s Country Store, the economic trend is neither bullish nor bearish. It is bunnyish.
And if your idea of a country store is spinning wheels, butter churns and jars of homemade jelly, think again. Things are really hopping in this updated idea of rustic chic.
Opening earlier this month, Mr. Willoughby’s, a tiny boutique located on the side of a large storefront, features an inventory of country-style decorative pieces such as stuffed rabbits, sheep and cows as well as wreaths and candles.
Browsing the displays is certainly a hare-raising experience: it’s nearly impossible to resist picking up the floppy-eared cuties whose expressions range from bewilderment to cheerful welcome.
“I try to choose things I would want to put in my own home,” Rhonda explains. “And I ask my friends ‘What do I need?’” to add to the mix. In a time when the phrase “disposable income” is practically extinct, she is amazingly brave. It is her first foray into the retail world.
“I always wanted to have a country store,” she says. “We were walking by [the site] at Christmas time and decided to take a whirl. I told my husband, ‘If we’re ever going to do it, we’re going to jump in. If something isn’t right, we need to rethink it’.”
So far, she notes, “Things are going smoothly. We’ve had more foot traffic than I expected. A lot of village residents come in; everyone from little kids to older people and folks from out of town.”
Who, you may wonder, is Mr. Willoughby, and why does he have a store named after him? Warning: there’s a trick answer. Mr. Willoughby is a place, not a person.
Rhonda says the name has two derivations: MR is a combination of her husband Mike’s first initial and her own; Willoughby, a small suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, is where they both grew up. Mike’s job brought them to Rhode Island 10 years ago.
At present, the shop is open only from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends because Rhonda is a teacher’s assistant at Forest Park Elementary School. As soon as the term is over, June 23, she says, “We’ll be open seven days a week.”
Other merchandise includes inspirational wall plaques, stuffed starfish and eggs in pastel colors and jewelry handcrafted by Lauren DelBrocco, a 16-year-old student at North Kingstown High School.
“I try to have something everyone would like,” says Rhonda. “They may not like country things but there are other items they could use in their home.”
Martha Smith is a resident of Warwick, RI and an independent contributor to Southern Rhode Island Newspapers.