It’s Christmas All Year Long at Tiny Little Shop Down on Cape Cod
Owned, Run by Marise Fawsett, Yvonne Rousseau, Business Flourishes Despite the Small Quarters
By Katharine Van Etten Lyford
What happens when a girl from Wisconsin and another from Connecticut get together? They expand the Christmas season right ‘round the calendar! At least that’s what happened when Marise Fawsett of Milwaukee and Yvonne Rousseau of Willimantic joined forces on Cape Cod and chose a site on the edge of broad salt marshes for their Christmas Shop, a tiny hut with steeply pitched roof that looks like something out of Hans Christian Anderson.
The shop opens yearly on Memorial Day and is immediately filled with impatient customers. Thirteen will pack it tight, and all of them, as well as he others waiting outside, are eager to see what the girls have gathered from all over the world to show them. Will there be china whales, chubby yellow-winged cherubs, owl-faced earrings? Or will there be those clever Christmas cards designed by Marise, one of them showing a mouse toasting a piece of cheese over a candle on a Christmas tree?
As earnestly as if the holidays were to begin the next week, early spring customers continue to crowd the Lilliputian store whose floor space measured only 10x13 until this year when an extra 6’x8’, and another peak to the roof were added. “We really needed the extra space badly,” Marise told me, “but some of our customers didn’t like it: they said we were getting too big!”
From Memorial Day until Dec. 23 when Marise and Yvonne close up to get ready to celebrate Christmas in traditional country style in their cottage on Old Colony Road nearby, old fry, young fry and the idle aged flock to the Christmas Shop. Greeted by Marise—if Yvonne is busy at the printing press—they are handed wicker baskets into which they can drop their purchases as they poke about the tiers of shelves.
Appealing Size of Shop
Five miles from a small Cape Cod village would scarcely seem like the best location for a business that now supports its owners, has bought them a car, a power press, and built new quarters for it as well as a house for themselves. “Size is our secret,” explained, Marise, a slender little thing with dancing eyes and a poodle hair cut. “People love our shop because it is so ridiculously small.”
The Christmas Shop, I discovered, was not always so named and it is only during the last four years that it has prospered. Wisconsin-born Marise told me that the little building they have adapted so charmingly to their needs, was a storehouse for salt hay and cranberries for more than a hundred years before its simple lines, weather-worn shingles and peaked roof caught the girls’ eyes.
Hearing that the farmer who owned it was about to tear it down, they asked if they might have it instead. When they told him that they planned to move it to the main highway and use it as a gift shop, he was amazed at their plan, but agreed to give it to them if they would sell in their shop baskets that he made.
“We had no money and no experience,” Marise admitted, “so at first we did everything wrong. Yvonne had been a very successful music teacher and I had been trained to do nothing useful except that I had taught myself to print. We met while we were doing war work in a factory in Connecticut and both agreed that we wanted to live on Cape Cod and have some kind of a shop. We thought printing would be a good side line and bought a small hand press which we kept in an old barn.”
Welcome to Browse
Yvonne, who entered the shop just then made a wry face and remarked, “For three long, lean years we made mistakes. You should have seen us trying to print large and complicated tax forms on a 3” by 5” hand press.”
To provide money for living expenses, Yvonne had continued to teach music in Willimantic, commuting [to the Cape] by bus.
“At last,” sighed Yvonne, “we learned that people really wanted small, inexpensive things, that they liked our shop because it was small and cozy and they thought it was fun to pick out gifts and Christmas cards during the spring and summer, especially cards designed by Marise with their names printed on them by our press. When we noticed the gleam in their eyes as they talked about Christmas, we decided to rechristen our shop in honor of the holiday. Everyone seems to like it.”
Big Drawing Card
At this moment two small boys came in and made directly for the Christmas-stocking shelf, a low one displaying a fascinating clutter of small puzzles, yo-yos, an inch-long mouth organ, dog whistles and other intriguing toys helpful to a harried Santa Claus. One youngster chose a yo-yo, the other a mouth organ, two small customers who knew they could find what they wanted at the Christmas Shop and weren’t going to wait until the holidays to get it.
“That shelf is a bonanza,” laughed Marise as the small fry left, “for the grown-ups have just as much fun choosing things from it as the children.”
When I started to admire the cards designed and printed by Marise—animals of all kinds sketched with few lines and great humor—she turned modest and protested, “Oh, I’ve never had any instruction. I’ve just taught myself to draw. And the reason you see so many mice is because we couldn’t keep them out of the shop when we first opened. So I just used field mice as models!”
From the end of December until May, the shop is closed and the girls take the first two or three weeks of January as vacation, living a leisurely life in their cozy “Christmas Cottage” and savoring the joy of being in their favorite spot on Cape Cod. Then they unlock the door of the new studio next door and get busy designing and printing new cards and note paper for the coming season. By the time this task is done, winter is over and it is time to spring-clean the Christmas Shop, readying it for the opening on Decoration Day.
As for the future, Marise and Yvonne declare that all they want is more of the same. Oh, perhaps a good heater, too, so they can keep warm in the shop during November and December without wearing snow boots and layers of sweaters. But no more additions to mar the pint-sized charm of their converted cranberry and salt hay storehouse! With the contagious enthusiasm that is so frequently transforms customers into good friends, they ask, “What more can we want? We have Christmas all year!”