With our streets of downtown already decked, who else is already thinking about Christmas? I can hardly wait to start going in and out of our shops along Main, Franklin, and Commerce to try and find the perfect gifts. I mean; who doesn’t love our holiday open houses at the beginning of November?
And you can’t talk about Christmas shopping or holiday open house without instantly thinking of two shops in particular on Main Street. At one end of the street, you find Eccentricities filled with items for your home that are old to some and new treasures to others. At the other, there is One of a Kind, which is the staple shop for all things decorative, personalized, and yummy. What’s the best part? These two shops are owned by sisters Gigi Johnson and Mary Lees Wilson.
I had a chance to talk to Gigi’s son, Justin Johnson, about the two sisters, their shops, and what it is like to work with the two of them in Downtown Natchez. “While working for my aunt and helping out my mom I can tell you I got really good at a two-block sprint,” Justin shared. “I’m proud of them both in a way I don’t think I could ever eloquently put into words. Strong women have always had a presence in my life. From their mother, and my Meme, Ellen Edwards being the definition of a matriarch, to being raised by a single working mom that made sure I never went without, to having a loving and supporting aunt that was always there for me no matter what, to watching my wife Melissa kick ass as a nurse practitioner while raising three kids, and participating in every event activity she’s asked to help with, these women are models of confidence, success, faith, and hope in all areas of their lives.
Mary Lees Wilson first opened One of a Kind in Vicksburg before coming home to Natchez and slowly creating the retail space that you see today. “When she moved back to Natchez, she was originally sharing floor space with other vendors until she was able to purchase the building she is in and turn it into the brick and mortar ‘one of a kind’ (pun intended) store that it is today,” Justin said.
Being open for over 30 years, Wilson’s shop has been home to many memories for families that are native to Natchez and those who have visited from far and wide. “She treats everyone like family, and that’s not just the employees, but the customers as well,” Justin added. “It blew my mind when I first started working there that she knew everyone that came through her doors by name. And not only that, but who their family was, what their story was, and even what they’re usual purchases were. One of the things that I remember her always saying is that running One of a Kind wasn’t a job, but a ministry – a chance to bring joy, happiness, and support to all those that need it.”
With the holidays approaching, Justin shared that the planning for all things Christmas starts each summer with a theme for the store and the yearly T-shirt. “Family and friends help pitch in to make sure each one is better than the last, sometimes employees that have moved out of town will come back just to be a part of it again and help out,” Justin shared. “By the end of the holiday season I always thought my fingers would fall off from all the wrapping we would do (complimentary, of course), but the thought of knowing that someone somewhere was going to be opening the gift bought and wrapped from our story on Christmas morning always warmed my heart.”
While Christmas Open House may be the ultimate shopping day for the store with its many Christmas decorations, gifts, and goodies being served in the courtyard out back, Mary Lees has a love for a different holiday, too. “Funnily enough, Christmas isn’t Mary Lees’ favorite holiday. It’s actually Halloween, and she is it’s queen,” Justin said. “She may have more Halloween decorations between her shop and her house than the Addams family.”
After working with his aunt throughout his childhood and into his adulthood, One of a Kind has played a huge role in making him who he is today. “It’s a part of who I am. From dressing up in a Nutcracker outfit to promote Open House, watching the Mardi Gras parades, to now being able to take my own kids into the store and watch them look around with that sense of wonder in their eyes at all the cool stuff,” Justin remembered. “Sure, it’s an iconic staple in the heart of downtown, but it’s also an enduring legacy of an incredibly generous, loving, and strong woman who has persevered through every hardship life has thrown her way. One of a Kind may be the name of the business, but it’s also the perfect description of its owner as well.”
Up the street a couple of blocks you will find Justin’s mother’s shop, Eccentricities, which is filled with just as much wonder as One of a Kind but of a different sort. Opened in 2013 as a challenge for herself, Gigi Johnson “first started the store with mostly different vendors consigning items to her to sell, but gradually it evolved to include antiques and retail, as well. She’s gotten more selective with the items she agrees to consign and has moved more into the retail side of things as far as the storefront goes,” Justin said.
“Her biggest love right now though, as I’m sure you know, is Estate Sales. We held our first a few years ago and she has steadily gained a devoted following, always eager to know when her next sale will be. She does ALL the research, prep, and set up for each sale herself which because of the sheer amount of time and items is amazing in its own right.
“It’s the research that really gets her excited though, especially if it’s a piece of art or an antique she has to track the origins of down. If Martha Stewart and Indiana Jones had a baby it’s definitely my mom,” Justin added. “She takes enormous pride in every sale that she puts on — no early viewing, no presales, no favoritism, none of it. It doesn’t matter who you are, because she wants everyone to have the same opportunity to get that special item as everyone else.”
With such strong business women for Justin and his family to have in their corner, it’s easy to see why he adores them both. They have helped to nurture and create more than a sense of work ethic in him over the years, but they have also taught him how to appreciate the community they are so loved by. “To see them achieve this success and to have achieved it the way they have through honesty, integrity, compassion, and hard work is inspiring,” Justin said. “And I hope it inspires others to follow in their footsteps.”
Jennie Guido is a community columnist for the Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.