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Theo Saunders – Ambitious woman

Theo Saunders – Ambitious woman

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by Camille Saunders-Musser

For years people have been coming to Mrs. Saunders Shop, hoping to find what they could not get in others.

This amazing, eclectic little shop in the heart of Kingstown is the creation of my mother, Theo Saunders.

Through her humour, energy and willingness to give of herself, she was able to secure the necessary funds to start the shop and has stood by it through thick and thin. Having a shop gave her the opportunity to carve out a unique place in the community, enabling her to forge a life outside of her home and family. {{more}}

My mother is not the kind of woman who was sublimely content to be a wife and mother of five children. Tending domestic chores was not the only job for her. She has always wanted something more for herself. Ambitious and enterprising she was determined to play an active role in her community.

Throughout her life she has been involved in various groups and organizations and has made major contributions in the community, but the one lasting contribution of which she is very proud, and which to this day in her 85th year gives her a big “kick”, is the chance to go to town, and be in her little shop, her pride and joy. Through her hard work she has made a profound and lasting impact on the community.

I do remember a time when my mother stayed at home and made eggnog and read stories about Goldilocks and the three Bears to my brothers and me. And then I remember the shop. No one in the family can say the exact date when it opened for business. But after chatting with numerous family and friends, we have come to the conclusion that the shop was in business by 1952. No one can say exactly where was the first location, but the shop has existed ever since.

For over 50 years the shop has been offering the people of SVG a bit of everything. It has always tried to offer style and unique items to the public. I think my mother’s intention was to offer her customers exciting, uncommon, yet, useful items. To do this, she subscribed to magazines and catalogs, trying to see what she could glean from them. I remember her ordering items from the Bella Hess catalog, a mail order shop based in Puerto Rico. It usually took about six months to get the order into the shop. She had to plan very carefully and manage the anticipation.

As a child there were times when I wanted to own just about everything in the shop. During the Christmas season there were rubber dolls which looked like real babies, marbles, and handballs, so brightly coloured that you could easily find them when they rolled into the bushes. I remember the shop selling Hula Hoops. I think she was the first person to sell them on the island. My younger brothers and I spent so many happy hours doing the Hula Hoop that we became masters at it.

There were clothes for children and lovely embroidered baby clothes which were made in the Philippines.

She sold stunning accessories. To a child this was exotic stuff. There were beads, rhinestones, sequins, ribbons, embroidered fabric, lace, rick rack and bias tape of all different colours, and jewellery locally made and from Coracraft in England.

She sold yarn, popularly know as wool, to the rastas to crochet their tams for their dreadlocks, as well as crochet threads for making bedspreads and antimacassars, DMC embroidery threads in bright tropical colours and pattern and instruction books for all kinds of needlework. Some of these items are still stocked in the shop.

During the early days of the shop my mother, who was also a seamstress, was able to carry on her sewing activities. She somehow was able to fit her sewing machine into the shop. There she made clothes for her customers while selling her goods.

Not only did she make clothes in the shop. It became a meeting point. Many community activities took place there. Tickets for various functions were sold at the shop. There were tickets for Red Cross Dances, poppies for Rememberance Day, and tickets for events sponsored by the Catholic Church. It was the local office for “The Children’s Educational and Benefit Club of SVG”, an organization created by Mary Neverson to offer scholarships to children seeking a secondary education.

The shop was the local office for Trinity College of Music. It was there that music students could buy their music books and get information about upcoming music exams. My mother was a foundation member of the Kingstown Choral, and I am sure she hawked tickets for their concerts at the shop.

There have been times when street vendors used the shop for overnight storage. These days I use it as a base for Youlou Arts, a non for profit art organization, which focuses on exposing children between the ages of 5 to 15 to the visual arts.

One of my brothers says he remembers the store as if it were a social welfare office on a Saturday for all the oddballs, misfits and unfortunates in town. There was Teddy Bear who was very dark, of gentle disposition and with a thick, round, heavy wooden leg. Then there was Sarah who had not a single tooth in her mouth but who just loved to chat. Only my mother seemed to understand her. Ms. Cordice, who sold her pottery to my mother always stopped by. All these people visited the shop expecting a handout. They were never disappointed.

It comes as no surprise that my mother became a shop – keeper. It is in her blood. Her parents were shopkeepers. I do have fond memories of my grandparents working in their shop from sun up to late at night in Ashton, under the shadow of Mt. Parnassus. They sold just about everything , from half a pound of sugar to fabric for making clothes. In chatting with my Aunt Marie I have recently learned that my great grandparents were also shopkeepers. During the late 1800 James Mulrain, my mother’s grandfather, had a business place in Kingstown exactly where the Treasury stands today.

Today my brother Chesley and myself play a large role in running the shop. It is a struggle! It is slowly dawning on us the amount of energy, enthusiasm and resolve it takes to run a shop. We have tremendous admiration and appreciation for our mother’s hard work.

The family is in agreement that the shop must continue. We plan to continue stocking art, needlework, and drafting supplies.

In July we will be selling note cards, postcards and prints of images from my paintings. We also plan to stock exquisitely crafted handmade gifts with prices to suit every pocket.

To those of you who wonder if Ms. Saunders shop still exists we invite you to climb the stairs and check us out.