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North Bend storefront starts new life as ZO Home
The store hasn't been open a full minute before someone steps inside to look around. Seconds later, the shopper sees the owners, Steve and Nancy Wray, and a stricken look crosses her face.
"What are you doing here?!" she asks. "Have you closed down there now?"
It's a question the Wrays have already gotten used to in the two short weeks since they opened their second North Bend shop, ZO Home, at 139 East North Bend Way, and they have a ready answer, at least for the second part of her question.
Birches Habitat, the shop down the street that many shoppers associate with "eclectic, soulful living" and with the Wrays, is not going anywhere. In fact, Birches is thriving, and since the opening of its sister store November 20, shoppers may notice that Birches Habitat seems bigger.
"The only thing I did was take the big furniture pieces out (of Birches), so there's a little more room," said Nancy, explaining the differences between the two stores. "This," she gestures around the ZO Home space, "is more home furnishings, with a little bit of a contemporary edge to it."
Heavy bookcases, and Mission-style tables fill the floor along with rustic finishes, woven-twig pieces, and glossy and matte metalwork, a lodge look that's gone city.
Getting back to the other half of the question, what they're doing there, Steve shakes his head, laughing. "It's completely ridiculous," he says.
In October, the couple had too much merchandise, the result of Nancy ordering too much and the manufacturers delivering too soon, and by mid-November, they'd had a grand opening for their second Main Street store. In between, there were conversations about starting a new business, partnering with friend and photographer Mary Miller for display and studio space in the back office of the building, and a lot of hard work and late nights as friends and staff, especially "our right-hand person" Ahn Lee Horn and full-time salesperson Shannon LASTNAME, helped the couple move into their new store.
"We spent many long nights," Steve said, "then Nancy put it all together."
That was a process requiring everyone, including Steve, to clear out of the store, so Nancy could really unleash her artistic vision.
"You wouldn't want to be here for that," Steve jokes, and Nancy agrees, "It's terrible!"
Steve continues, "The thing about Nancy, is trying to keep up with her, and seeing her vision… but, bottom line, we're still married!"
Actually, the couple share the vision for the store, which they say will have the same fun and what Steve calls "flavor" as Birches, without directly competing.
"The whole idea was not to jeopardize Birches," Steve explains.
"The spirit of Birches, to me, is always eclectic, soulful living," said Nancy. The playful gifts and stylish clothing are still the mainstays. ZO, she says, "is more about creating living spaces that are comfortable, reflect a personal style, and are the opposite of trendy."
Nancy's choice of name for the store reflects her focus. She's not sure what made her think of it, but she knew ZO was the name when she thought of it. Later, she learned that the Latin root word ZO is related to living things, making it her perfect choice.
How long ZO will live will depend on its success in the next month, because the Wrays and Miller have committed to only a short-term lease, for now. Steve said the community's response and loyalty to Birches has been humbling, and they have no intention of putting that store at risk with this venture.
Should ZO prove popular with shoppers, though, it will permanently join the Wrays' family.
"We're ordering for here, we're stocking for here, with the idea that it is going to work," Steve said. "You can't do anything if you don't try."
ZO Home is open seven says a week, from noon to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. ZO Home shares staff and contact information with Birches Habitat. For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/bircheshabitat, or call (425) 292-9390.