The evolution of the Needful Things Emporium is a tale of savvy merchants with a penchant for regeneration and grit. Melissa Glascock (or Missy as she’s locally known) is the current owner of this longtime family enterprise. From the warm greetings from literally every customer who passed by during our interview, it’s obvious she’s an integral part of downtown Charles Town. I arrived at Needful Things promptly at opening on a Tuesday and it didn’t take long before the store was filled with shoppers eager to socialize and explore the 11,000-square-foot store, which recently expanded into the old Needful Things II space next door.
Missy took me back to 1968 to explain how it all began — with her talented and sharp-witted granny who reupholstered second-hand furniture to sell in her thrift store. She taught her son, Missy’s father, how to buy storage units and the family then spent 30 years salvaging storage lots on auction to resell with Missy taking over the management in 2007 and continuing in the footsteps of her parents and granny. The retail shop had been in the current storefront location since 1991, and all was well in the enterprise until the pandemic interrupted their ability to participate in auctions with integrity. “Everything went online, even auctions, and you can’t buy delinquent storage without being there to see it — and smell it,” Missy explains.
Tenacious as her granny, Missy transformed the interruption into an opportunity to pivot the business model. The idea, she described, is that the store serves as an incubator and platform for creators who can rent a booth and reap the benefits of a brick-and-mortar with decades of local success. “You just have to see if your side hustle, your craft, your passion, the thing that you do late at night and share with your friends for the holidays is worth [it]” she laughs. Shoppers can find everything from vintage wares and artwork, to hand-crafted leather goods, herbal remedies and lego figurines, to nourishing food at a plant-based café.
Missy is thrilled and honored to support her vendors, “It’s great to see all these [new] businesses that do have great ideas and do have things to offer, but where do [they] do it and how do [they] do it?” It’s daunting to launch any small business or to scale from hobby to enterprise. Needful Things aims to alleviate some of that risk for new and seasoned sellers alike.
“I have 64 small businesses that are trying their hand at a brick-and mortar without having to take the plunge into a long-term lease and the overhead costs.” One such seller began at Needful Things with the smallest 4 x 7-foot booth and soon expanded to the largest 9 x 14-foot booth, which then led to leasing an 850 square foot storefront — “and they’re thriving,” Missy beams proudly. It’s clear that she feels a personal investment in the success of her vendors, or “baby birds” as she sweetly refers to them. “I know what it’s like as a small business to want to take that next step,” she empathizes.
We discussed how this is just the sort of collaborative and supportive environment that differentiates a physical, multi-vendor space from an online one, such as Etsy. Shoppers peruse the store and stumble upon great finds in a way that they wouldn’t online. Visiting Needful Things is a social and curiosity-inducing experience that bolsters an entire local economy as entrepreneurs can enjoy the benefits of shoppers consistently rotating through the doors.
Another benefit is embodied in one of the more recent additions to the Needful Things roster during their pandemic-era evolution: a café (repurposing the old lunch counter that has been in the space since it was Newberry’s Department store). “We had [the] food and I would have never known it was plant-based unless someone told me,” Missy says, “her flavors are amazing.” Cocina Plantosaurus has been operating under the Needful Things roof since 2021. “It just enhances [the space] and shows that another small business can thrive,” Missy declares.
The Needful Things Emporium is far more than a store—it’s a family, and it’s growing in a way that’d make Missy’s granny proud.
Located at 218 West Washington St, Charles Town (tel: 304 725-6315). Open Tue-Sat 10-6, Sun 11-3, closed Mondays.
Erin Atticus Mooney is the former owner of a creative events and leadership development company based in Washington, D.C., a creative business coach and consultant, and a lover of nature.By Erin Atticus Mooney