Former Yard Birds Tennant Creates Inclusive Artistic Business in Downtown Centralia
Christy Lakin initially opened her store, ChristyAnn Designs presents The Victorian Showcase and Steampunk Emporium, in Yard Birds, but a mere month after launch, the City of Chehalis issued safety and code compliance warnings.
“We launched our business in Yard Birds under the impression we would be there for a good amount of time,” Lakin said. “We built up a Victorian shop with pillars and gold frames, added carpet and paint and made a beautiful space. December (2021) we had been open for just a little over a month and the City of Chehalis put up signs on all the doors that it was unsafe. It was very disturbing to be told in this way and disheartening as well.”
Lakin took the opportunity to leave, along with their former and current neighbors StrangeLand’s Oddities, Omens, & Charms, who toured the current location on North Tower Avenue in Centralia and brought it to Lakin’s attention.
“We made it through the month but were trying to figure out what to do when Paul from Strangelands had us contact the owner of our current building. He was leaving Yard Birds and said that it was a little more work then he could manage. We walked in and right away I was like, ‘wow’ ... bright orange, ceilings included,” Lakin said. “But the layout worked and we could build a larger store with a possible tea room in front, so we took the opportunity presented. Strangely the feeling was of a new adventure and not defeat. Took two months and about twice the paint than what I thought it would, but we got it as completed as we could with the knowledge we would continue to work on it and make it into what we need to serve our community, artists, and our family.”
The location on Tower Avenue costs more, but Lakin saw its potential to help grow her business into something more than it could have been at Yard Birds, and that growth mentality continues today.
“Each section I put in is a little investment,” Lakin said.
Her latest investment is the wax cabinet, where stamps, seals, wax beads and melting furnaces can be purchased for putting an additional personal touch on letters or in other creative uses.
When Lakin first started her business, she planned to make everything in the shop herself.
“At first I thought I’d be able to make things, because I’m crafty like that,” Lakin said over a cup of her hand blended ‘Only Mostly Dead’ tea in the front tearoom of The Victorian Showcase, a reference to the 1987 cult classic film, The Princess Bride. “But I soon realized there are so many brilliant creators out there who are better than me, so why not showcase that? I don’t have to be the one making it for it to be out there in the world.”
When she first explained the idea for The Victorian Showcase and Steampunk Emporium to her family, a cousin asked her: “So it’s like a walk-in Etsy shop?”
One year later, Lakin has cultivated a group of local creators who thrive in her shop, learning from each other as well as from Lakin. Since opening, Lakin has sewn exactly two aprons and blended new teas; everything else in the carefully curated shop comes from 20-plus different local artists who contribute their talents to the store.
“There’s a lot of really talented people here and we love to showcase them,” said Lakin’s sister, Lisa Smith, who helps in the store when she can and for whom the hand-blended teas were originally created to help with some health issues she was experiencing.
That showcase mentality has led to Lakin and The Victorian Showcase and Steampunk Emporium becoming a beacon for small creative businesses locally. Lakin mentors several creators on various aspects of their creative process and shares the business acumen she’s acquired in the year since opening.
“If somebody comes in and is unsure of themselves, I do what I can to help,” said Lakin. “I spent a year hyper-fixating on how to run a creative business, so I try to share what I’ve learned. We talk about the fact that they have the power here at the shop.”
Creators get a huge say in the pricing, placement and vending of their work in Lakin’s shop.
“And this is her energy she has with all her crafters,” Smith said.
Lakin has mentored about 20 artists, including Nicole Stenberg of Aromamancy (as she describes it: “literally scent magic”), one of the artists whose candles and soaps are available for purchase in the shop, as well as at the Centralia Farmers Market.
“Christy is amazing and creative all on her own. She’s one of the only businesses on Tower that spends most of her time trying to build us up and give us exposure,” Stenberg said. “When you walk in here, it's an experience … I want to be Christy when I grow up. She’s very intuitive and patient because she knows it’s just me creating these products.”
Stenberg is also collaborating with Lakin on creating an exclusive scent for The Victorian Showcase and Steampunk Emporium. While they’re still working out the scent note details, they know it’s going to be called ‘Sneak Attack,’ after one of their Dungeons & Dragons campaigns.
Lakin didn’t set out with the intention to build a business for personal profit, but rather as a place where others could have a local platform to build their creative businesses.
“I did not make this business for money, I made it so people can make money,” she said.
Lakin used an inheritance sum to found the business, and since then she hasn’t stopped sharing whatever she can with her creators. Whether it’s extra supplies or use of the Dungeons & Dragons table in the back room as a space to create, Lakin shares it all.
“If I have an abundance … If I have it and I’m not doing anything with it, it's yours to share,” she said. “I understand that if you have something you’re not using, holding onto it isn’t a good thing either.”
Lakin’s store also plays host to Dungeons & Dragons campaigns on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights with professional Dungeon Masters, though anyone interested in participating should check ahead for availability. Several of her hand-blended teas are named after various characters or campaigns she’s followed.
The Victorian Showcase and Steampunk Emporium is also a haven for folks with attention deficit disorder or on the autism spectrum. Several creators stock products that are sensory friendly, including weighted sensory squares and comfort afghans.
“We are sensory friendly because a lot of our artists are on the spectrum and understand those sensory needs,” said Lakin. “Nana Ruby Treasures has sensory squares to be able to touch and pull and put your fingers through. Blue Ink has Therapy Animals that she crafts out of chenille yarn and a heavier batting so you get the feeling of holding onto something. M&K Creative Designs use stones and crystals for a wonderful smooth feeling, Fae Trickster who makes the shiny math dice, our Leather workers Anna and John work with leather that has its own special feel, and so many more who use color and texture to excite and make our brains happy.”
Lakin curated a sticker section specifically so that kids could have a place that was safe for them to touch things in a store where parents often tell them to do the opposite.
“The parents would come in and be worried about touching,” said Lakin. “This is a safe space for busy hands.”
Smith isn’t the only family member working the shop. They have a rotating crew of six family members that help out a day or two a week each, and it’s clear that family, and the community that brings, are at the heart of this business. The Victorian Showcase and Steampunk Emporium is presented by ChristyAnn Designs, Lakin’s other business name. The ‘Ann’ portion of ChristyAnn Designs isn’t a part of Christy’s name, but rather an homage to a long tradition of Ann’s and Anne’s in the family, particularly her mother and grandmother, the latter of which passed shortly before the business opened in 2021.
“I just wanted to incorporate the legacy of the Ann name,” says Lakin. “Grandma Ann was a very Victorian person.”
“We’ve always been family based,” said Smith. “Our grandma always taught us that family was so important.”
The Victorian Showcase and Steampunk Emporium is located at 529 N. Tower Ave. Follow the business on Facebook to learn more.