Learning on job
Gowanda shop has something for everyone
By BEVERLY KEHE-ROWLAND
Special to the OBSERVER
GOWANDA — The saying “if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it,” applies to Sarah Gabel of Gowanda. The pastor’s wife, home-schooling mom of five boys and entrepreneur, has a gift of making it all work.
After their oldest son became interested in wooden railroads eleven years ago, she and her husband Pastor Dave Gabel, found that buying off-brand pieces was a fraction of the cost of the popular name brand pieces. When they realized many other parents, grandparents and anyone buying for a young child would appreciate the same savings, the couple decided to sell the product.
“My husband researched and found they were all made outside the country, so we got an import license. We worked out of our basement and had UPS pick up at our house. There were times at Christmas when I had 200 boxes on my washing machine, etc. waiting for the pick-up. It was getting crazy at our house and my husband always wondered what we could do if we had a building.”
Eventually, a building in downtown Gowanda that had been built by the federal government for the original Gowanda Post Office and later used for several things, including Art’s Grocery, came on the market. Even though the location was right and the building was what they needed, the cost was far beyond the couple’s reach. After much prayer the cost came down to a portion of the original asking price.
Two months after closing on the sale in March 2009 and after some of the walls were removed on the second floor and Gabel had done electrical and heating improvements, Jesse’s Toy Box opened. The business with plenty of warehouse space and a storefront was named after their first-born son.
“We started with mostly wooden railway and not a lot of other items. Eventually we added toys and novelty items. We had 60,000 customers in 70 countries. We even shipped sleds to Cyprus, but after our success attracted copycats, there was a trademark infringement.”
After researching their chances of fighting the people who were doing this and finding they could have high legal fees, but no reimbursement and the considerable rise in lead-testing costs, the couple decided to liquidate inventory and made an attempt to sell the building. After they did not find a buyer, Jesse’s Toy Shop closed in June 2016.
Mrs. Gabel met with two artist friends in July to discuss what they could do to make the building self-supporting. They wanted to give all of their friends and family an outlet to sell their quality products.
“No individual could survive by having a shop on their own. We went from there with our planning,” she says.
The interior of the sales area was changed from a very bright, childlike feel to a decor that is more appropriate for their current use.
“We closed for four months and worked like mad. We opened October first with twenty different artists and some antiques. It was like pulling teeth to get twenty and now we have forty and are turning people away.”
“It provides a retail opportunity for the artist that wouldn’t be possible on their own,” said her husband.
“The business is drawing talent from our own community and probably 80 percent are Christians,” his wife said. “We’ve seen this as an opportunity to bless people. We are committed to never take an income from here. If we do, we’ll pour it into the community. We want to bless the people who are selling here and bless other churches. Our inspirational verse that we found when we really had to step out in faith was, Galatians 6:10 ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially those who are the household of faith.'”
“Sometimes people think a shop like this is expensive, but this one is not. The clothing sells for five to twenty-eight dollars and the all natural body products are two to fourteen dollars,” she stated.
Hand-thrown pottery, baby quilts and clothing and pet dishes and dog biscuits are sold as well as bird houses, jewelry, soaps and candles and hand-knitted items. There are several interesting repurposed pieces, such as benches made from vintage doors and a kitchen island and coffee bar, both with storage. Other vendors display patterned tote bags, barn signs and more. An area teacher has some small items made from various iron pieces which have been welded into small tractors, decorative pieces and man cave-appropriate items.
“The organic body products have been some of our most popular items.”
The Gabels have a few of their own items in the store, such as Melissa and Doug toys, novelties and Usborne Books.
“We sell Usborne Books at 10 percent discount all year, which we’ve sold for four years. We are in the top 2 percent of their sellers in the entire country.”
The Gabels say the inventory is constantly changing and most of the sellers live within 10 to 15 miles of Gowanda. They try to have two demonstrations per month, which are held on Saturdays. So far they have had soap making, vegan cooking, jewelry making and fly tying. Programs on pet health and body products and batik art demonstrations are planned for the future and a Native American potter will be doing a pottery throwing demo soon.
“We’re constantly thinking of what everybody can demonstrate,” Mrs. Gabel said. “I want this to succeed, because I want it to be a light in the community. I wish there was three of me, because I would like to be with my husband at the church. I would love to be here at the business and talking and meeting people. I wish I could be home with my children homeschooling, cleaning and gardening.”
When asked about her interests, her friend Jessica Lawton and Sarah’s husband both say, “Football, football, football!”
“I love good football and I love good players. I’ve made all kinds of Super Bowl cakes,” she said.
A vendor that was in the shop filling the soap shelf said, “She’s a prayer warrior.”
“I get up at 6:30 to read my Bible and study,” said the shopkeeper.
She also teaches an adult Sunday school. When she is not working on projects concerning the business or caring for or homeschooling the boys, she gardens, both vegetable and flower, does acrylic painting and goes camping.
“She used to paint her rooms all of the time,” Jessica tattled.
“My living room can only stay in one position for a month and a half,” Sarah interjected.
“She cooks everything from scratch,” said Lawton.
“I’m going to try to do (cook ahead) on my football withdrawal Sundays,” said Sarah. “Last Sunday I made seven meals. We try to do meat twice per week. Vegetarian recipes are full of pasta and I try not to do a lot of that.”
“I love cooking. I hide vegetables. The blueberry Buckle recipe was my mother’s, who was a very honest, very upright person, but when friends asked for the recipe she would always leave out one ingredient. She finally confessed this to my aunt one day.”
“I came up with the Brussels sprouts recipe because I was sick of always roasting them. My six-year-old son told me ‘Mom, if you make the Brussels sprouts like this I will always eat them.'”
“The Lightened-Up Sweet Potato Casserole is my oldest son’s favorite, but he prefers it cold. We call it pumpkin pie stuff. All of the recipes for sweet potato casseroles always call for a lot of sugar. Since they’re already sweet, I always cut back.”
If you are looking for a unique gift for any age, a refurbished or repurposed piece or an opportunity to take a drive, Jesse’s Home and Gifts is located at 53 W. Main St., Gowanda and their phone number is 532-3196. The store hours are Monday and Tuesday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.