Next time you’re out at Kent Station be sure to check out Bella Home and Garden where owner Marci Wainhouse fills her shop with honey from Tuscany and soap from France, and pretty things from just about everywhere from here to there. She says it’s “like you’re visiting my home” when you come to the shop, but then notes that at home she’s got “two kids, four dogs, two goats, six chickens, a cat, a rabbit and a fish”—so really it’s not quite like that. Get to know Wainhouse here, and maybe you’ll finagle an invite to her petting zoo somewhere down the line.
WWW:What song is playing on your store’s sound system right now?
Wainhouse: I love it when customers sing along. Who can resist crooning with Louie Prima’s “Just a Gigolo?” My favorite song is “Volare” by Domenico Modugno and when I’m seriously designing I go for the big guns: Andrea Bocelli.
What was your first job in retail? What did you love or hate about it? How does it compare to what you do now?
Somewhere in my late twenties, I looked in the help wanted ads of the Seattle Times and I found an ad for a flower cleaner. Certainly one of the lowest level jobs in the floral business, but I answered it anyway. I had remembered I always wanted to be a florist as a little girl and I needed a creative balance to help take pressure off the left-side of my brain. Turns out, the job was for Martha E. Harris Flowers and Gifts, then located at U Village. Martha was, and still is, the most talented florist in Seattle. I still remember why I said yes to working there; it was the smell of the flower cooler. It was the most amazing smell, and I knew I never wanted to do anything else. I quickly quit my real job and worked for Martha for years and loved every moment. I never looked back at the what-if of staying at a corporate job. I do what I love every day. Now people come to Bella and one of the things they always comment on is the smell. It’s not the same as Martha’s flower cooler, but I like it better because it’s the whole store.
What is your favorite thing in the store right now?
I make a living out of selling things I love, so to pick just one seems impossible. I love our wine-barrel furniture made by a local craftsman who re-purposes wine barrels. His work is beautiful. I had almost past him by, but my nine-year-old persuaded me to stop and look at his work. Always listen to your children. I also love the dried lavender that just arrived from Purple Haze in Sequim. It’s organically grown and lovely. I only carry the variety Grosso because I think it’s the prettiest. Pretty soon, our cinnamon candles from Oregon will be here. They are naturally made from beeswax, spread with cinnamon, and rolled the old fashioned way. The fragrance is amazing. And I love the way we design flowers. Right now we’re using a lot of hydrangea and mint. No, I can’t pick a favorite.
Where do you shop when you’re not at your store?
I’m a busy woman with two kids, so I don’t spend a lot of time shopping. I used to—in fact, one reason I own a store is because I shopped too much. It was the buying I enjoyed; I didn’t need to buy for myself to be satisfied, so I began buying for my store. But back to the question…where do I shop? I guess I’ll say Starbucks, only because that’s an embarrassing twice a day habit that I love and won’t apologize for; and Trader Joe’s. I rarely go to the “mall”, I don’t shop at Costco and have only been to a Walmart once looking for a slip ’n slide.
What do you love about your store’s neighborhood? What nearby restaurants, coffee shops, etc. do you recommend?
My store was originally located in the historic part of downtown Kent, on First Avenue Souh—a great neighborhood. I still love stores like City Frame, a quality framing and art gallery. I moved to Kent Station about five years ago. I love the community feel they have created. Before this, people in Kent had no where to walk around, go to dinner, or see a movie in one location. And Kent is a unique city with Kent Station blending seamlessly to the historic district, Town Square Plaza, library, city hall, and many parks. I’m born and raised here, so there are many days when I’m a tour guide and official direction-giver. If someone just moved here, especially if they have children, we’re probably going to be chatting for a while. The other day, I was watering the plants around Kent Station (one of my jobs) and a gentleman who spoke almost no English was lost. I tried to give him directions–where he needed to go was just a few blocks away–but I think it seemed like a 100 miles away to him. He had his two little girls with him and he really needed help. I asked him if he wanted me to just go with him, and he did. It was an interesting drive, but we made it and I was happy to help. The only “problem” with my location is that I’m directly across the street from Cow Chip Cookies chip. If you’ve never had one, you’re missing out. It’s a locally owned company that started at the Puyallup Fair. There are some days I wish they were still only at the fair, like scones. How much trouble can you get in once a year?
What is the weirdest thing that has ever happened in your store?
Nothing weird ever happens at Bella. Really, I can’t remember one weird thing. Every time customers come in, I want them to have a beautiful experience. I have a less-is-more approach to life. I believe in quality over quantity, intimate over excessive, and being happy over everything. Just come in for a visit. We’ll sing a little to “Volare,” I’ll make you a beautiful floral arrangement, and you can smell the cinnamon candles and get in the mood for fall.