Williamsburg, VA: From Shirley Pewter to Danforth Pewter
If you walked down the main streets in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia twenty years ago, you probably saw one of the town's fixtures: Shirley Pewter, a sweet little shop right in the heart of Duke of Gloucester Street.
Many people have fond memories of strolling down this brick-laden avenue and popping into Shirley to browse their holloware, spoons, and other home goods. Today, what was once Shirley Pewter is now Danforth Petwer: another small, artisanal business, occupying the same space, carrying on some of Shirley's traditions while making that space our own
We pride ourselves in upholding meaningful traditions and in cultivating strong roots in our communities. For that reason, we're taking some time today to highlight an important part of our history and our present: Danforth's Williamsburg, VA store.
The story of Danforth in Virginia
Our Williamsburg store manager, Laura, was born and raised in Williamsburg. After graduating from William & Mary College just down the street, she knew she wanted to stay and build her life there. In 1998, she saw a Help Wanted sign in the window of Shirley Pewter and decided to apply. She got the job, and after working as a sales associate there for over a decade, she rose to the position of manager in 2009.
Around that time, a big change was coming—but no one saw it coming.
"When Shirley was bought by Danforth," Laura says, "Bruce, Shirley's son, did not let anyone know that it was happening. One Friday afternoon, we got a fax about a mandatory meeting on Monday. No one knew anything was changing.
"After the meeting started, I opened the door to see five new folks. Bruce introduced them as Fred and Judi Danforth, along with three of their colleagues. And he told us that Shirley was being bought by Danforth Pewter.
"We weren't sure what to think. We didn't know if it would be a good transaction, if we'd still have jobs. But fortunately, we had a chance to talk with Andy, the retail manager at Danforth, and he assured us that we all still had our jobs, and he wasn't going to make many changes from our perspective.
"That turned out to be true. They kept the Shirley name until we renovated the space. Shirley had a very small foundry of just about six or eight people, and they did end up shutting that down. We still carried some of the Shirley line, though there was a lag as Danforth worked to supply our store again. Our loyal customers were saddened to see Shirley go."
"In 2011, we opened our doors as Danforth Pewter. Many people were loyal customers to Shirley, but hopefully we've won them over. Many Shirley pieces were retired, though some have come back after customers asked and Danforth was able to resurrect them. So I think we've kept many of our longtime customers, as well as gained some new loyal customers.
"Danforth has brought a new and more modern approach to what Shirley was doing, while still keeping some of the traditional elements. For instance, everything is still made by hand, all from fine pewter. It's made in Vermont now, not Virginia, but people still like that it's local, and it still has its local roots here, because we still honor a lot of what Shirley was doing. It's all handmade, and people appreciate that," Laura said. "Danforth has become just as much a beloved space here in Williamsburg as Shirley was."
"The people, the culture of the store is really what makes it special, too. We're usually staffed by college students and retirees, people want to work here because it's so beautiful. They love what we have and it's a beautiful atmosphere to be around all day. It's very peaceful. Merchants Square is a beautiful place to work. We have fun!"
There are some pieces that are specific to our Williamsburg store, some of them made originally by Shirley Pewter. The Courting Lamp and the Bonbon Dish (which is Laura's favorite) are not available online or in any other stores. If you're interested, you'll have to plan a trip to Virginia!
Over the years, the Williamsburg store has seen some exciting moments.
"In the middle of this photo is the Empress of Japan," Laura said. "She came to visit Williamsburg in the 1970s and they invited her to the shop. The item they are showing her is one of the Jefferson goblets that we still make. When she was here, it was the Year of the Rabbit, so they gave her one of the Dancing Rabbit ring holders that we lovingly called Pewter Rabbit. Danforth retired that one several years ago but since this year is the year of the rabbit, I asked the powers that be in Vermont if they could bring it back for Easter, and they did! Yippee!"
Each of our stores is a unique place that's deeply rooted in its community. We love meeting our customers face to face, so we hope that if you're in the area (or planning a trip this summer), you'll stop in and say hello!
Look for more histories of each of our stores in upcoming blogs. For now, be sure to sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram for updates and promotions. To see our store locations and hours, click here.