No Ordinary Place –

For 34 years, Tinker’s has offered home decor and gift items that surprise and delight. With a mantra of “why shop the ordinary,” owner Sharon Coleman has sought out unique and quirky items. From baby rattles shaped like barbells to colorfully upholstered couches and everything in between, the boutique has been popular with locals and out-of-state shoppers alike. Making the decision to close the boutique has been difficult for Coleman, but after her husband, Anthony “Tony” Coleman, died from COVID-19 in February, she says being at the store without him has been a challenge. “I always said when I didn’t love it anymore then I needed to rethink it and with him passing away, you know every day I’d see him as he’d come in,” Coleman says. “It just seemed like I lost my joy.”

Tony owned Tinker and Company, one of the largest furniture restoration businesses on the East Coast. The workshop adjoins the retail portion of Tinker’s at 2409 Westwood Ave. and will remain open. Coleman says her oldest son, Joey, has worked at the shop since he was 17 (he’s currently 52) and plans to continue running Tinker and Company.

Making the announcement to close in April, Tinker’s has entered the final days of its store closing sale. There are still a few items available to purchase, which Coleman describes in a video posted Thursday on Tinker’s Facebook page.

On a recent afternoon, several patrons stopped by the boutique to offer their condolences to Coleman as well as gratitude to her for creating a space that was inviting and a pleasure to browse. 

Long-time customer Hellen Hamilton laughs as she recalls a time when she had purchased the store’s signature Tinker Toffee (made by Coleman’s sister) as a gift and asked her husband to deliver it. He placed it on the ground while getting into his vehicle, forgetting it was there, and managed to back over it. Hamilton did not want the crushed toffee go to waste and used it as an ice cream topping.  

Customer Tammy Gibson says she hasn’t missed one of Tinker’s holiday open houses in 16 years. “I’d give my kids an ornament every year,” she says. One year she was in a wheelchair and still made it to the open house. She recalls sitting in her wheelchair at the door and taking in all the splendor of the boutique decked out with multiple Christmas trees and decorations everywhere.

Coleman says they store has received an outpouring of support and well wishes through social media, via phone and in person. She shares that a customer who now lives an hour away from the boutique recently stopped by for one last visit. The customer said that when times were difficult for her, she would always come to Tinker’s because everyone was so friendly, and you just felt great coming in. Coleman says, “I can’t tell you how many people have said, ‘It’s my happy place.’ ”

Though Tony didn’t manage the retail side of the business, he’d often pop in and was quick with a joke. His absence is palpable among those who knew him or had the chance to meet him. “We miss him horribly,” Manager Sue Saunders says. “He was a good man. He made us laugh every day.” Saunders recalls him often playing tricks on her. Sometimes he would rearrange the mannequins around the store overnight, posing them in closets or in the bathrooms. “I come in in the morning and the mannequin would have its arms [stretched forward] and I’d open the door and I am telling you one morning I almost fell in the floor it scared me so bad,” she recalls.  

Coleman opened Tinker’s in 1988 at 412 E. Main St. as a country chic boutique selling folk art and weathervanes. As her tastes evolved, so did the shop.

She has enjoyed curating a blend of trendy with traditional, carrying antique furniture pieces that have been refurbished with a modern aesthetic. “I wanted people to not take their houses so seriously,” Coleman says. “Especially when people first buy a house, everybody’s in a rush to get it all done. Enjoy the process. When you find things you like, you might not know where you want to put it, but so many people want to know exactly what’s going in that room. … I just think they should find the things that they really like, and they’ll find a place to put them.” 

Coleman moved the shop to the 5700 block of Patterson Avenue in the early 1990s, then Tony decided to relocate both Tinker and Company (which was located in downtown Richmond) and Tinker’s to one location on Westwood Avenue a few years later, where they have remained to this day. “This used to be a plumbing supply place,” Coleman says. “I was like, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘We’ll make it nice,’ and all these years later we’re still here.”

A fire in 1998 destroyed the retail portion of the building and everything within it, but a firewall prevented the workshop from burning, though it did sustain water and smoke damage. Coleman recalls how big a deal the fire was, with helicopters flying overhead and the threat of explosion due to the furniture restoration businesses’ chemicals. She says it took them six months to rebuild and that’s also when the Coleman’s purchased the building.

Coleman plans to lease out the retail side of the building, possibly even dividing it into space for two businesses. Though she has no plans to open another store of her own. “People would like to buy this building already because this area, Scott’s Addition is moving this way,” Coleman says. “But I’m not going to sell it right now. I’m going to sit and see how this whole area [develops].”

Coleman says it’s the people — her staff, customers, and friends — that she’ll miss the most. “I won’t miss lying in bed trying to think of creative displays, but I’ll miss the excitement of when I’ve got a new line,” she says.  She also notes, “I won’t miss taking the trees down after Christmas.” With its selection of unique and unexpected gifts, the holiday season was a busy time at Tinker’s. 

“People keep saying, ‘You’ve been an institution in town,’ but I’ve never really thought of myself like that,” Coleman says. “I’ve never even thought of the shop like that, because it didn’t seem like it’s been that long. It’s truly been a labor of love.”

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