Buy Local: Making dreams come true: Village Gift

By Brent Frankenhoff

Downtown Amherst’s Main Street gained a new business just over two years ago when Tanya Victor opened Village Gift at 147 North Main Street, fulfilling a long-time ambition.

“I have always dreamed of owning a little shop just like this,” Victor told the Spirit. “I moved here with my husband and son a few years ago to be closer to my parents and was reminded how we all love to create things. I make jewelry and have a harmless clothing addiction, my son makes delicious maple syrup, my mom, Anne, is an incredible artist with a large collection of paintings filed away in her studio, and my dad, well, he’s David Wright. He has a column in the Spirit and has written and curated stories from many local writers in the Journal from the Heartland publications. Grab a copy at Village Gift for only a 10-spot! He’ll be proud of the shameless plug.

“Anyway, we needed a place to feature these creations and invite other makers to the party and this storefront became available to rent. It just sort of fell into place with the help of many. The statement ‘It takes a village’ couldn’t be more apropos here in Amherst. What a place!”

Victor said that she has worked in retail for about 10 years professionally from gift shops and art cooperatives to clothing stores and a bit longer if one includes her youthful endeavors.

I was a budding maker of barely discernible clay creatures that I featured in my parent’s pottery shop in the ’70s. Strangely, no one recognized my raw talent. The 25¢ improv puppet shows were just about as successful in garnering lifelong patrons of my arts,” she said.

Victor grew up in a small, dusty town on the high plains of Colorado. “And by high, I mean just under 6,500 feet in elevation,” she added. “It was a bit of an artsy community with a smattering of rodeo folks. My parents had a pottery studio and retail shop in an old western storefront that also served as our ‘home’ for many years. At one point they even entered into a joint venture as restaurateurs serving hippie versions of the classic sandwich (alfalfa sprouts on everything) and rum raisin ice cream, which was my personal favorite at the age of 5. I started making jewelry as a teen and haven’t really stopped. I think I will do it until my close-range vision and fine motor skills wane.”

After travels around the country, Victor settled in Fort Collins, Colorado, with her husband, Dean, and they started a family. “I got a job at a brewery, and Dean got an education job at the high school,” she added. “Another click of the fast forward button and boom! The global pandemic hit, and we packed up our life and set it down in Amherst right next door to my parents, and we haven’t looked back since. We miss our Colorado friends, but Wisconsin and getting to know its tapestry of characters has been a joyful adventure. Our son is on the football team and growing into a fine young man with a way better garden than he ever dreamed of having in ‘dry Colorado’.”

In her first few months of business, Victor said that one of her favorite memories “was when a customer came in and said something like ‘I collect small African wooden stools. I know this is a shot in the dark, but do you happen to have any for sale?’ And, I actually did have one. A sale was made, and laughs were had. Also, the Wine Walk last year was big-time fun. (Get your tickets now for this year’s event!). My mom and I made pretzel necklaces to give away to the many jovial Wine Walkers.”

While the African wooden stools are not necessarily among her regular offerings, Victor said, “It’s not unusual to find local honey, coffee, Turkish bowls and towels, Wisconsin-made candles, soaps, local art, cards, and, in the Little Hall of Thrift, second-hand name brand clothing and jewelry. I am pretty sure you won’t find some of the items I carry anywhere else. My hope is that the second you open the door you will feel welcomed and delighted. If you have been in before, bring more friends and come visit again and again. Things change all the time; new makers are featured, jewelry is made on site each week, and new clothing magically arrives on a pretty regular basis.”

As with any new business, there is a learning curve, especially with paperwork and the inevitable forms and reports, and Victor said, “I have learned so much, not always the easy way. Fellow business owners, family, and friends have helped me get through it. I cobble it all together on a shoestring budget, but it’s fun and hopefully that shows when you come in the door.”

Despite the challenges, Victor said, “I hope to keep this up for as long as it is sustainable for me, my family, and the Village. It is just too much fun not to do.”

As with many Village businesses run by solo proprietors, The Village Gift’s hours vary a bit, but the store is pretty consistently open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. A calendar with updated hours is posted on the front door. The store can be followed on Facebook at VillageGiftAmherstWI. “I have an Instagram account, too,” she said, “but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how to connect them and invite folks to that account. This is my next learning adventure. I hope to see you in the shop soon!”

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