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General store: History of family business

Back in 1919, Sam Wallace III’s great-grandfather, Robert Wallace, started the retail business The College Shop on Duke of Gloucester Street in Merchants Square.

Today, the family business encompasses five shops throughout Williamsburg, including R.P. Wallace & Sons General Store, The Campus Shop and The Christmas Shop, all in Merchants Square, and Wallace’s Trading Post and The Williamsburg General Store, both on Richmond Road.

Sam Wallace III, who is general manager of The Williamsburg General Store and Wallace’s Trading Post, grew up in the business, learning the ropes from his father, Sam Wallace Jr. and his uncle, Cabell Wallace.

“I’ve always been interested in the family business,” Wallace says. “It takes a lot of hard work to own a business. I try to be honest and fair with everyone in all aspects of the business. That is what my dad instilled in me.”

After graduating from Hampden-Sydney College with a degree in economics in 2011, Wallace dabbled with running his own business, Wallace’s Merchandise, which primarily sold Peace Frogs.

“I really enjoyed it,” Wallace recalls. “That’s when I first realized I really wanted to work in retail.”

He returned to Williamsburg a few years later and started working at The Williamsburg General Store, which first opened its doors in 2001.

The store is a gift shop that caters to tourists and locals. It carries a variety of products from jellies, jams and sauces to handbags and accessories. Its more popular items include flags, peanuts, wall and home décor, and Williamsburg apparel and souvenirs.

Bubba’s Ice Cream Shack has a home in the back of the store.

“We carry a little bit of everything,” Wallace says. “We have a large and wide selection of products.”

Wallace is responsible for buying all of the merchandise that the store carries. He often attends gift shows in search of new ideas.

“We are constantly bringing in new product. I try to be aware of the new trends that are going on out there. I’m a numbers person, so I also like doing all the ordering and inventory and trying to figure out what is going to sell.”

Recently, The Williamsburg General Store added the popular Simply Southern brand of apparel to its line of products and rebranded its ice cream shop to Bubba’s Ice Cream Shack in an effort to draw in more local customers.

“This is a fun environment to shop in,” he says. “A lot of people like the ambience, and when the locals come in and see what it is about, they tend to come back again.”

Laura Emery, of Williamsburg, likes to shop at The Williamsburg General Store with her daughter.

“We like the quality of the souvenirs, the assortment of the items, jewelry, clothing, collectibles,” Emery says. “It is varied, so you can always find something special for everyone. When we go inside, you are always greeted with a smile, asked about your day, and made to feel welcomed. It is definitely one of our favorite Williamsburg stores, and we always take our friends and family members there when they want to take a souvenir home.”

Wallace oversees 40 employees, including Manager Robert Anderson who has been with The Williamsburg General Store since it first opened. His father also worked at the General Store.

For Wallace, the customers make it all worthwhile. “I enjoy interacting with customers from all over the world.

“Good customer service is important to us. My dad also taught me to treat your customers and your employees the way you want to be treated. Always.”

Copyright © 2018, Williamsburg Magazine