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Eclectic expansion: Birches Habitat makes customers at home in North Bend
A visit to Birches Habitat in downtown North Bend is a treasure hunt. Even after its recent expansion, the store for "eclectic, soulful living" is jammed with books and cards, calendars, art, jewelry, candles, toiletries, clothing, and most importantly, a sense of fun. There's a line of T-shirts to make you laugh, "Weird Washington" books to make you wonder, warm fuzzy scarves and sweaters, funky boots and belts, and a couple of dogs whose bellies always need rubbing.
Even if you don't find something you can't live without, it's not a wasted trip, because you'll likely meet Nancy or Steve Wray, the owners and possibly the happiest people in North Bend.
"I've lived here for 20 years, and I so adore North Bend," said Nancy, a petite bundle of energy and the creative mind that has shaped Birches Habitat. Talking about the shop that the couple opened in 2008, she has to wipe away a few happy tears. "It actually chokes me up to think how different my life is now. We have great friends... and we really feel a part of the community," she said.
Before opening the shop, Nancy worked at an art store in Bellevue, and Steve worked all over the country, building treehouses. "We've never really even known our neighbors," Steve said, "but now, we can't go into the grocery store without meeting somebody we know."
They want everyone who sets foot in their store to enjoy that same feeling of community, or even family.
"Take Isabel,"says Nancy. "Isabel is 86 and she's a love! She comes in every week to shop, and we just love her."
"The main thing is we want you to be comfortable, laugh, have fun, and be welcome," said Steve.
Warm colors and touchable displays are part of the inviting setting. Nancy is very tactile, Steve says, and she has to feel items before she can decide whether she likes them enough to sell in the store, so their customers are welcome to do the same.
"Once she touches (an item) and understands the company, she doesn't have to go back. She can order from the catalog," Steve said.
Nancy is hands-on in many ways, from buying the merchandise to dressing the windows, to, occasionally, taking on the role of personal shopper.
"I love it when someone comes in and wants to follow a trend but doesn't really know how," she said, clapping her hands. "I don't profess to know it all, but I have so much fun doing it... I love doing transformations!"
The store's own transformation, a 280 square-foot expansion completed last month, allowed the Wrays to double their clothing inventory. You'll find more men's and women's apparel, but no children's clothes, because they want to minimize any overlap with other North Bend stores' offerings.
"With the idea that she had, to provide in this store the gifts, the local art, and the clothing, it's all going to be different," said Steve. "We wanted to be unique."
Also, they want to be affordable. "Nancy works very hard on pricing," said Steve, plus there's usually a discount on something, and there's always a clearance section, too. The window displays make the store look a lot more expensive than it actually is, he says, "but don't be afraid of the windows."
They are grateful to the people who "gave us a shot" two years ago when they opened, amidst predictions of a recession and a December snowstorm that stranded residents inside the city for days.
"With great love and support from the Valley, we've had our dream come true," Steve said.
Birches Habitat is open every day, weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. They have several holiday promotions planned including a men's night Dec. 14, a ladies night TBD, wishlists, and extended holiday hours.