The flower beds in front of the pretty little shop at 1912 Washington Pike are a riot of crazy color punctuated with big, blooming pumpkin vines next to a row of round stepping stones embedded with bright shards of china. The winsome storefront hints at what’s inside.
“Doing Dishes,” is where Flanders Setchel and her mother, Doris Ewing, and a well-mannered Doberman named Lola Marie spend every day but Sunday, presiding over a vast array of china – from fine to fun and everything in between, plus hand-crafted candles and soaps and a collection of cards painted by Ewing, who is an accomplished artist. The embellished stepping-stones, which Setchel and Ewing make, are $18.50 each and are in high demand.
Setchel had been selling china on eBay before she rented the storefront in 2016 as a place to store her goods and prepare them for delivery. Before long, people started dropping by.
“It never occurred to me that anybody else would love china as much as I do, but people started finding me and scratching on the door, so bit by bit, I built one cabinet after another, and now it’s officially a retail location.”
She says she started collecting dishes because she loved having guests over for dinner parties.
“I wanted to set a pretty table. Who doesn’t want a beautiful table when you go to the effort to cook dinner?” She asked. “There’s a famous saying – ‘I would rather eat a hot dog off a beautiful plate than beef Wellington off an ugly one.”
Setchel and Ewing are Fountain Citians now. They came here six years ago from the tiny town of Rough and Ready, an old gold mining settlement in Northern California.
Ask Setchel what she did before she came here, and she’ll say she was in real estate, although a quick internet search shows that she’s far too modest about her accomplishments, which also include being a farmer, a florist, a jewelry maker and a singer with a band. She wanted to retire early and decided that she could accomplish her goal 10 years sooner somewhere other than California. She and her mother did some research and chose Tennessee.
“I cashed out – retired at 48 – and we moved to Knoxville and never looked back,” she said. “I figure if you’re a happy person you’ll be happy anywhere and if you’re a miserable person, you’ll be miserable anywhere. But that being said, we REALLY like Tennessee. We’re avid gardeners and love the outside. It’s so lush and gorgeous here and people are so friendly.”
Their business plan is to carry “the bright, colorful stuff you hope you’ll find in a yard sale, but never do.”
There’s a shelf of ’50s dinner and salad plates in a variety of floral patterns that Setchel says is popular with young Millenials.
“There’s nothing on these shelves that’s more expensive than $6,” she said. “Let’s say you are having a dinner for eight people. Come to the mix-and-match rack and pick up a dinner plate and salad plate for each of your guests, and even if you go with the most expensive stuff, you’ve still only paid $96. Not bad for a set of eight.”
The price tags on the inventory vary greatly, from the $2.75 teacup and saucer flash sale event that saw more than 400 pieces fly out the door in 24 hours, to high-end items like Havilland and Spode and the Noritaki creamer and sugar bowl that recently sold for $1,400.
“We are the mix-and match-headquarters in this county,” she said. “Every single dish is for sale individually.”