If only someone could bottle the smell of Archibald Sisters itself. The back half of the downtown Olympia boutique is dedicated to housemade lotions and perfumes, with a dazzling array of options making up the scent bar. But the store itself has a special floral mix of all of them, some vanilla and gardenia, a hint of eucalyptus and citronella, creating a signature fusion that lingers in the air.
Phil Rollins started the shop in 1975 with the titular sisters, Susie and Shelley Archibald, eventually marrying Susie. After a divorce in 2008, Rollins is the only one of the original ownership trio that remains with the business. From the beginning, the idea was simple: "A store full of things that make people happy," he says.
More than 45 years later, that selection means fun socks and stationery, plus toys and games that appeal to adults as much as kids: bird masks and rubber duckies and Sasquatch band-aids. Like Archie McPhee, Seattle's signature joke store, but a little more grown-up; the jewelry selection is legitimately lovely. On Yelp, one customer likens it to mall staple Spencer's Gifts if it was “run by all girls and unicorns.”
The fragrances, says Rollins, were his concept; over the decades the selection has grown to more than 150 different scents. For the overwhelmed, he points to their best sellers: vanilla coconut (more or less what it sounds like) and China Rain (a blend of white lily, Chinese rose, musk, and sandalwood). Another blockbuster goes by the name Oly Girl, a floral and vanilla mix. The fragrance bar can add any scent to bath and massage products, or a mix to create completely new combinations.
Downtown Olympia sits at the foot of Puget Sound, the historic blocks squared against the fingers of Budd Inlet. Though the capitol building looms above, the town has long embraced a funky, artsy vibe. Murals decorate building walls and an artesian well is decorated in bright tile. Even as Olympia struggles with issues familiar across the Northwest—rising homelessness, property crime—the downtown blocks have managed to hold on to independent businesses. Archibald Sisters remains a mainstay on Capitol Way, its pink and purple trim giving it an '80s aesthetic.
Rollins opened a Portland outpost for a few years but closed it before the pandemic. A single shop makes sense for a business so distinctly local; the front of the store includes Olympia-branded shirts and stickers. Though Rollins launched a new website to broaden his online retail, the physical store itself is a testament to the joys of browsing. Each aisle has its own eclectic theme, every display an excuse to linger—the kind of shopping experience the pandemic and the internet have rendered so rare.
I am not the only one who loves the scent of the Archibald Sisters; Rollins says customers often ask him to name the delicate, original aroma that lingers in the air. "It's just a mix of everything," he says. "Maybe I should try to create it, and name it after the store."
406 Capitol Way S, Olympia
Travel time from Seattle: 1 hour