A&W Collectables Antique Mall is part of the town of Keswick’s history that almost didn’t have a future.
Barbara Fleming took over the business in 2018, when the owners wanted to retire. Barbara, who graduated from Longwood College with a business degree, was pursuing an interest that started years before. “I inherited some costume jewelry from my grandmother and used to go to estate sales with my mom,” she relates. “About 20 years ago, I started a booth with a friend and gradually got several small spaces to include furniture, antiques, décor, and of course a jewelry showcase.”
When it appeared that A&W might close in 2018 after being in business over 25 years, Barbara and several other vendors got together to see if they could keep the business going. “At the end of the day, I was it,” Barbara adds. “But with the help of a great group of vendors, we’ve made it work. We also have to give a big credit to our wonderful and very loyal customers
The COVID pandemic, though, was not part of the business plan. “When COVID shut us down on March 15, I called the Central Virginia SBDC,” Barbara explains. “They connected me with Diane Arnold, who assisted me with so many things, including applying for an EIDL loan. Unfortunately, when completing the application, I checked a wrong block and did not get the loan.
A&W reopened in May 2020, and Barbara continued to collaborate with the SBDC, which resulted in a steady increase in sales. “I talked with Diane a lot during that time,” Barbara says. “She stopped for a visit and took note of the safety protocols we were doing. We had signage regarding local and state ordinances, free masks, sanitizer, an antique frame with plexiglass at the sales counter, and a basket system set up for customers to place their purchases in prior to purchasing them. She looked at the things we were doing and helped us decipher safety regulations. She advised us whenever we came across something in the gray area on local and state levels.”
A&W’s “gray area” included public restrooms and mask mandates. “Diane advised me to keep the bathrooms closed, which I did,” Barbara says. When there was pushback, Barbara compromised. “I rented a Porta John,” she says. “A lot of businesses were doing that.”
Barbara credits the SBDC with keeping her in the loop about other nearby businesses. “I get information from the SBDC all the time,” she relates. “Diane keeps me informed about other businesses and just information in general.”
Now well into 2021, Barbara is optimistic. “I think things are looking up,” she says. “We’re doing better than we did the year before.”
Barbara, recommends the SBDC’s services on a daily basis. “When customers comment on our safety measures, we tell them we’re just following the advice of the local SBDC,” Barbara concludes. “The SBDC was there to advise us on whatever we needed at the moment — our customers appreciate that, and so do we.”