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An hour wouldn’t be enough time to see everything in Chautauqua Miniatures and 2 Chixx Gift Shoppe; it might take a whole day to really get a good look at everything.
“We have antique jewelry…new jewelry…games…clothes. We love our clothes,” co-owner Heather Johnson pointed out things on her left and right as she wandered through the store. “A lot of times people will say, ‘Oh, what is your store?’ And I always think, ‘How do I describe this place?’…It’s like a giant department store, with a miniature store attached…maybe a quirky department store.”
Perhaps a quirky department store was not what Heather and her friend Sandra Duffee had in mind when they took over the Chautauqua Miniatures business twelve years ago, but over the years their inventory has expanded into a line of toys, clothes and gifts, in addition to their world of miniatures.
But to own a miniature store was always part of the plan, even if it did not seem like it. Heather went to school to study education, and ended up at work in a landscaping business which she owned for 8 years. “And I ran the landscaping department at Chautauqua Institution for 15 years.”
Heather had convinced her friend Sandra to come work at the landscaping business with her, then at Chautauqua. But the two friends also shared a long-time passion for miniatures.
“We always said someday when we retire we’re going to run a miniature shop,” Sandra said. Twelve years ago Jean Pearson retired and decided to sell her miniature business. “I was like ‘Eek!’” Heather laughed. “Jean’s retiring; we need to do this right now!” And thus a lifelong dream came true.
“It’s a good thing we didn’t know what we didn’t know!” Heather laughed. They began with the miniatures, but added a flower shop for a while and moved four times before they settled into their niche as a miniature shop, home boutique, toy store, housed in an 1890s barn.
Sandra and Heather love to travel to shows around the country and find treasures from around the world. They met a lady from Washington who raises her own bees, and makes all natural lotions and health products. They have a new line of jewelry made from coconuts in Ecuador and a line of vintage jewelry courtesy of Sandra’s brother who has an antique store in Olean.“Everything has a story,” Heather said.
“We just shipped a whole bunch of these to Italy,” Heather said, holding a completely furnished miniature house in her hand. They sell products all over the world, and from all over the world. Tiny hand-blown wine glasses from England and glamorous vintage dressers from Germany line the antique display cases.
Some of the furniture and props are made in their own workshop. Heather designs mini pieces of furniture, while Sandra forms little hats and purses. “We love to make things,” Heather smiled.
Their favorite part of the work is to set up the displays. Nursery themed cases, castle themed, Halloween themed and a delicious bakery filled with tiny handcrafted pies and cakes. The themes of the houses around the store change periodically.
One display has a theme that never changes. “Here’s mom!” Heather cried out excitedly. “She was an investigative reporter for the Buffalo News. And then when she retired, I did it in miniature for her!” Heather pointed to the newsroom, its walls covered in old articles her mom had written.
Family is important. Heather’s five grandchildren and Sandra’s three all get to hand-test the toys they sell. They love to play with the miniatures and watch the themes of the houses develop.
“I’ve watched customers’ kids grow from 8 to 20,” Heather said. “Now you know them, you know their families…everybody sort of becomes this family.” Some old customers greet new ones and even help them out. “I think that’s kind of the neatest part of it all,” Heather smiled.
Chautauqua Miniatures and 2 Chixx Gift Shoppe is located among the Red Brick Farm Shops at 5031 West Lake Rd. in Mayville, NY. From December 26 to June 1 they are open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. From June 1 to December 26 they are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, look on Chautauquaminiatures.com or call 716-753-3100.