By Kaitlin Hill
Photos by Callie Broaddus
Enter Middleburg’s Fun Shop, and you will instantly understand the name. The shop’s magnitude of merchandise creates a maze-like atmosphere more similar to an endless fun house than a stuffy department store. Towers of toys, walls of rainbow colored linens, stacks of imported soaps and more are selected and sold by proprietors and sisters, Page Allen and Betsy Allen Davis. The duo acquired their keen sense for business during a lifetime spent in the store started by their mother.
When the family moved to Middleburg in 1954 it was, “just a sleepy little town,” according to Page. “With plumbing, gas, just real functional businesses,” adds Betsy.
In 1956, their mother opened a shop, in part to fulfill her childhood dream, and also out of necessity. “She always, since she was a little girl, wanted to have a shop and be a proprietor,” Page says.
Nancy’s struggle to find clothes and toys for her two girls was also a factor. Page remembers her mom saying, “There’s nowhere to buy children’s clothing and toys. Maybe I could do something.”
With a small loan and the shop’s name, both provided by her mother-in-law, Nancy opened the first Fun Shop. “Mom started in a hole in the wall, across the road,” Page remembers, gesturing out of her office window.
As the business grew, Nancy looked for a larger footprint. Her husband, Howard, owned a photography studio in the building across the street and invited her to share the space. “He said, ‘come on and move up here with me; I have plenty of space.’ That was the wrong thing to say,” Betsy says with a laugh.
“Through the years, he got smaller and smaller, and she got bigger and bigger,” jokes Page.
The expansion beyond children’s merchandise was driven by town demand and Nancy’s willingness to go above and beyond for her customers. “Whatever people needed, Mom would get it,” Betsy says. Page adds, “They [customers] would say, ‘Do you have such and such?’ And she’d say, ‘No, but I can get it.’ That was mom’s thing, service.”
Now, 62 years later, that mindset is still at the heart of The Fun Shop. Betsy and Page carry on their mother’s tradition of going the extra mile for their patrons, sometimes literally. Page travels the country, often stopping in Atlanta, Chicago or New York, searching for goods to sell in the store. She has even traveled as far as Toronto. If they can’t find it on the road, they will scour the internet. And as Betsy puts it, “nine out of 10 times, we find it.”
Occasionally whatever they are looking for is brought to their front door. Over the years, Nancy built strong relationships with sales reps that would often come knocking, hoping to get their product into The Fun Shop rotation. “They loved mom, but she was a business woman and she’d say, ‘Don’t take my time showing me all those things, I know what I like!’ ” Betsy says. “Mom would always be pretty blunt and say, ‘Oh that’s ugly.’ ” Nancy’s honesty earned the respect of the sales reps, often the same reps Betsy and Page use to this day.
It is these close working relationships that the sisters enjoy most about working at the shop. “It’s like a big family. We know about their families, and they know about ours,” Page says.
“At Christmas they’ll bring gifts, food they make themselves. One brings the apple pie from the little pastry shop. They’ll bring us lunch,” Betsy elaborates.
Though successful business has its perks, it also has its challenges. Like so many other family-owned shops in small towns, The Fun Shop has to compete with online shopping. “It’s not good, not just Middleburg, but for all these small towns. We want to keep these wonderful small towns and keep them vibrant,” Betsy says. Large retail stores pose a threat, too. “They are on all four sides of us; you go north, south, east or west, there is a Walmart or a Target,” she adds.
But The Fun Shop remains an integral part of Middleburg’s community and a shopping destination, providing what e-commerce and large chains cannot. Page says, “We offer the service that you don’t get at all these other stores. We do free giftwrap; we do special ordering; we ship things for people.”
However, what sets The Fun Shop apart isn’t only the extra services the sisters offer. If you wander through the twisting aisles stocked with a little bit of everything, you are likely to see a few signs stating, “There’s more.” These couldn’t be more fitting. In a world that is becoming increasingly automated, where customer service is often overlooked for cost cutting, The Fun Shop is a reminder of what shopping used to be. For Page and Betsy, there’s more than just the transfer of goods between proprietor and patron; there’s service, there’s family and, of course, there’s fun. ML