The Story of the Idea
Once upon a time there were three friends, two guys and a girl, who had been meeting every Monday morning at 7am for breakfast at one of the local restaurants in Roanoke. The objective for this brain trust was to think of money making ideas. While meeting together over a period of approximately one year, several viable ideas were discussed, including a public buy~sell market for exchange of used possessions i.e. now “EBay,” and, an in store kiosk to dispense new release videos i.e. “Red Box” twenty years later! Remember, this was back in 1990 prior to widespread use of internet or cell phones.
Being prohibitively costly to finance a project like EBay, the group realized they had to settle on something far less ambitious. Eventually, one of the guys mentioned that it would really be nice to have something to remind his children of home once they had grown up and moved away. Expanding on that thought, the idea of a collectible series of ornaments commemorating significant sites in Roanoke met both the mission and financial criteria. When deciding on the first ornament in the series, it obviously had to be the Mill Mountain Star. The same guy worked for a promotional gifts firm and had access to a manufacturing company in the USA capable of designing and producing custom pieces. Funds being quite short, only 300 pieces were shipped on the initial order. A small ad was placed in the Roanoke Times with a phone number to call and place an order. Also, we actually participated in the Junior League Stocked Market without even a sample to show folks, and, still sold enough to make the effort worthwhile. Viola! Eventually, over 3500 beautiful polished Stars were sold.
One afternoon after the ad had been published, we were sitting around the “shipping” table, and, in walked an older gentleman asking “Is this where I can get some Stars?” He explained that his “girls” ran “The Gift Niche” located in the Downtown Market area. Would we consider having them sell Stars for us? Quickly, a lunch meeting was setup and details hashed over. A very successful partnership evolved over the next decade. Many Saturdays we would get a call saying “Come quick as you can, we’re out!”
We thought to grow the business by expanding to other cities. The first partnership lasted five (5) years and had setup distribution in Richmond and Lynchburg, as well as North Carolina and Florida. The business never rose to the level where anyone could risk giving up their day job, and, was becoming increasingly more difficult to manage. Project was abandoned in 1995.
Still convinced that the collectible ornament idea could create value, a second partnership was formed among four people with different talents. Six additional Roanoke ornaments were produced as well as four (4) pieces memorable of the history of Colonial Williamsburg. Through a good friend we were introduced to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and, subsequently placed our Williamsburg pieces in all their retail locations.
We further expanded our product line and markets by introducing a collectible series of light houses. During the six (6) years the second partnership stayed together, we produced commemorative pieces for the two (2) Virginia light houses and the five (5) coastal light houses along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. All of these are pre 20th Century and are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fast forward to Spring, 2013. One of the original partners and her brother invited a group of friends to join them on a “motor” trip to Chateau Morrisette. With a captive audience, one motive, other than to have fun and enjoy each others’ company, was to reignite the Roanoke ornament collection by thinking of places that had not yet been commemorated.
During the ride we held a “Board of Directors” meeting and actually did research en route by using internet to “Google” the history and background of Roanoke. An idea was forming as a new twist on the old concept: “Remembering Roanoke Series.” The pieces comprising this series would no longer be part of our consciousness, having decades since been replaced by industrial growth and technology. The list included: Mill Mountain Incline Trolley, original Mill Mountain Playhouse, The Roanoke Rescue Squad (first in the US), and the American Theatre, to name a few.
And so the story goes… We now have a new retail partner, Two and a Half Sisters, located across from the very busy Towers Shopping Center in Roanoke, VA, and, we will have a presence on the internet to market our products twenty four seven! As our Mother used to say ” Wouldn’t it be fun to have a business that takes orders while we sleep?”
Raymond Barnes, Atty historian
Alton Parker photographer
George Davis photographer