Lemons and bluebirds for dark days

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

I love country music. Put it together with some down-home gospel, and it goes a long way toward keeping spirits up during these days of fear and unknown.

One of my favorite country songs is “Bluebird,” by Miranda Lambert because I think it sounds like me. She sings of being a page turner, one who keeps digging down for the deep, a giver and a rhymer who likes to make sense of things.

But the best part is the refrain:

And if the house just keeps on winning,

I got a wildcard up my sleeve.

And if love keeps giving me lemons,

I’ll just mix ’em in my drink.

And if the whole wide world stops singing

And all the stars go dark,

I’ll keep a light on in my soul;

Keep a bluebird in my heart.

I ran across some creative small business owners this week that mixed up a lot of lemons into their drinks, played their wildcards and kept those bluebirds singing. I have two stories to share with you so far. This week, Dandy Lions, a Maryville retail business. Next week: Above the Rest Event and Balloon Design.

Dandy Lions is a locally-owned gift shop in historic downtown Maryville. Joy Carver has built this business into a local favorite, a welcoming shop stocked-full with creative, unique gifts for all occasions. Joy began the business at home as a stationery business and opened a storefront in the spring of 2007. While she had a website, it wasn’t an ecommerce site. Social media was a good platform as well, to introduce her new products and help get people into the store.

The store was so welcoming and the interaction with customers so much a part of the business that this just felt like the way things should be.

Until early March 2020. Joy returned from a vacation with her family with the news of the corona virus escalating in a way it hadn’t before they left. “I got to the store on that Monday. It was a rainy day, dark, and everything just seemed different in the store,” Joy says. “It was scary, and I felt a fear I haven’t felt in a long, long time. No one was out. News was rolling through, and it wasn’t good.”

Joy says that being the type of store Dandy Lions is and being in Maryville, “I was blessed to be a little behind the times. The store front brought in enough foot traffic. I have been surrounded and padded with local support since the day we opened. We felt this was who we were, what we were intended to be.”

But now Joy wasn’t sure. “Driving home that day, I just kept thinking: What should I do? Which way do I go?”

She says she felt she needed help beyond just reassurance. “Sometimes we just need our mentor, a voice of reason. I called Bryan Daniels, president of the Blount Chamber Partnership.”

It was a bit tricky, because Bryan is also a friend, but Joy got straight to the point. “I asked him, as a business owner, ‘What are you hearing? I am calling you because I need to know what’s happening. How bad can this get?’”

Bryan had no crystal ball, but he did have advice and an opinion that creative action might be needed.

“He said: ‘I think you need to look at starting ecommerce.’ All the way home, I kept telling him that I wasn’t going to do that, that ecommerce isn’t who we are. He listened and kept listening as I went on, then said: ‘Joy, this isn’t going away next week. I think you need to strongly reconsider.’

Joy Carver, owner of Dandy Lions

“I think it was then that it hit me that the darkness I felt all day was because this wasn’t going to be a two-week lull in business that we could weather through. Sitting in the driveway, I made up my mind. I called a Maryville photographer, Emily Webb, who said: ‘I’ll be there tomorrow morning to get started.’ Then I called Keeli Boyce, whose company includes web development. She said, ‘Alright, we will meet tomorrow.’”

“Tomorrow” was a Tuesday. By Wednesday, one week later, Dandy Lions had ecommerce on its website with the option for shipping or curbside pick-up.

In addition, Joy kept to her promise to herself to do it in a way she felt “kept the spirit of the store and reflected, as best we could, a personal touch.”

“In less than two weeks’ time, we had people receiving merchandise they had ordered online,” says Joy. “We have watched steady sales, worked longer hours in a different way and seen such an outpouring of love and support. People are helping us stay afloat with their dollars.

“I stood in the store the day we shipped out our first order, and I felt such lightness where it had been so dark just a short time before. There’s hope, and that feels good.”

Mix those lemons and keep that bluebird singing!

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987.


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