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Shop owner will focus on wholesale
Joni Ulman Lewis is closing Visual Treats, her quirky gift shop in downtown Fredericksburg, to concentrate on the wholesale side of her business.


Date published: 11/22/2012

BY CATHY JETT

Visual Treats' owner knew she couldn't keep running her gift shop during the day and filling wholesale orders for her quirky cards, vintage sachets and other handmade items at night.

But Joni Ulman Lewis' meltdown didn't come until she boxed up an order on the second floor of her shop at 1002 Princess Anne St. and realized she couldn't get it down the stairs.

"It was like a ship in a bottle," she said. "I should have had the room downstairs to pack that box next to the door. The poor UPS guy. It weighed 42 pounds."

Lewis, who'd had to cut back during the summer to take care of her husband after he had a knee replaced, said she spent "many sleepless and teary nights" before deciding the time had come to close up the shop, which is on the first floor.

"The store has turned into a ball and chain," she said. "It's like a baby. If you put it down and turn your back, it's going to cry. I'd like to have time to take a yoga class, read a book and all that."

On Black Friday, everything in Visual Treats will be marked down 50 percent. The sale will run through Dec. 10, and another merchant, whom she declined to name, will buy what's left.

"I am not planning to move out of the studio, just take over the first floor for more production space," Lewis said. "I didn't give my landlord notice. I said don't panic when you see the closing sign. I'm not moving in the dark of night."

Instead, she and her staff will concentrate on the wholesale side of her business. The mainstay is her line of greeting cards, many of which feature vintage photos and funny sayings. Her sachets, which have been featured as gift ideas in several magazines, are popular at holidays.

Lewis said that her mother's childhood bicycle with the bright yellow Visual Treats sign made by Scott Howson of Fredericksburg will remain in front of her business.

"It's sort of my symbol now," Lewis said. "It's on my website and business cards. The bike is important. I might even pump up the tires."

The bicycle-turned-signpost used to direct shoppers to her store when it was located in various buildings in the 600 block of Caroline Street 13 years ago, and later to the store she had above her cousin's shop, Ulman's Jewelry at 903 Caroline St. She's been at her current location for three years.

Early on, Lewis also used to take stacks of her creations to shows and hope she'd sell all of them by the end of the day. Now she takes samples to international gift shows in New York City and takes orders from wholesalers. She also has a website, joniulmanlewis.com, where customers can place individual orders.

"The really good thing about my business is that I get to live in Fredericksburg and sell worldwide," Lewis said. "I'm not dependant on my local economy to survive."

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407
Email: cjett@freelancestar.com