You might say that Taber Olinger has a knack for finding cute, quirky, and interesting things. Step inside her shop, Fancy & Staple, in downtown Fort Wayne, and you’ll see oven mitts with attitude, self-deprecating coaster sets, playful jewelry, and wall pennants crafted by local artists among the selection. Taber Olinger
While customers have to shop online during the pandemic, Olinger is taking her spirit of whimsy and eye for design to the streets.
For the past few weeks, she’s been offering free shipping and personal delivery to locals, using Fancy & Staple’s Instagram Story (@fancyandstaple) to share some of the most interesting architecture she’s finding along the way.
Input Fort Wayne sat down with Olinger (virtually) to learn more about her COVID-19 experience as a small business owner and to see some of the hidden gems she’s uncovering in our city.
IFW: You seem to love unique houses. Where do you live in Fort Wayne, and what do you enjoy about your neighborhood?
TO: I live in the ‘07, and without a doubt, I love the houses the most. The neighborhoods are cozy, and the streets are tree-lined and narrow. But the houses are what make it. Many of them are right around the 100-year-old mark, which in my opinion, was a great time for architecture. I absolutely adore all the cottages, A-Frames, craftsmans, bungalows, and Four Squares.
IFW: What initially inspired you to start Fancy & Staple?
TO: I opened Fancy & Staple because of my love affair with this city. I'm from Fort Wayne and love it here. My husband and I met back in 2003, moved away for college, (he went to recording school, and I went for fashion design/merchandising), lived in some awesome places, and ultimately decided that Fort Wayne is where we would land.
We missed it. We missed our friends, our family, the special places we frequented, and the whole feel of Fort Wayne. When you live in a bigger city, people are so jaded and unappreciative of newness and growth. It's like they think, ‘Who cares if there's a new business opening? We already have a ton of great places to go.’ On the other hand, when something happens in Fort Wayne, it's a huge deal, and everyone feels more connected to it and each other. It's a real warm and fuzzy thing, and that's why I love it here.
Back in 2003, (I was 23 then) my husband, Ryan, and I used to dream up all sorts of businesses that we wanted to start here in Fort Wayne. We thought of many things... bars, music venues, food trucks (before they were cool), french fry restaurant, recording school, fashion boutique, etc. Our goal was to make this city a cooler place to live, while doing what we love.
Out of all our ideas throughout the years, what I really wanted was a place that encompassed ALL my favorite things: Music, art, food, home decor, and fashion. And hence, Fancy & Staple was born.
My goal for F&S was to surround myself and this city with awesome stuff, a lot of it being handmade by crafters and makers, some of it local, and all of it with a unique and edgy twist. I wanted it to be a fun place that people enjoyed visiting and a thoughtful place where you could tell it was carefully curated. I always intended for it to be a place known for its local art shows, parties, and gatherings! That's what makes it all worthwhile. That's what makes it more than just a store. It's fun for me, the artists, the bands, and the community! A venue for all things creative.
IFW: When did the pandemic start to impact your business? Give us a quick rundown of the decisions you’ve had to make since then.
TO: March 10th is when I felt my business first became impacted. It was dead in my store. I think people were just starting to realize the Coronavirus was actually happening here, and they were scared. It was slow all week until that Saturday, the 13th, which was quite busy. Almost as if people were fearing the inevitable and trying to get out and about before they couldn’t anymore.
That Saturday is when I realized that I had to do something. I posted on my social media outlets that Fancy would start beefing up its online shop, offering in-store and curbside pickup, doing free local delivery, and offering free shipping. Well, then we all sat in fear all weekend long, watching as everything was canceled and closed. And my post quickly changed to closing my shop and focusing on online sales, delivering, and shipping. That following Monday, the 16th, I made the announcement (along with what felt like everyone one else), and that is where Fancy stands to this day.
Olinger's daughter, Eleanor, makes a delivery.
IFW: How has business been since the pandemic started compared to usual?
TO: My daily transactions are down, but my sales are up. So basically, the people who are ordering are spending more. And God bless them. What I have found is that it’s mostly gifts to cheer people up, gifts for occasions that don’t go away because of a virus, or gifts to oneself to bring joy during a time when it’s so needed. It’s mostly locals, with about 10 percent non-local. It’s a lot of ‘07 and ‘05 folks, which is awesome! It’s been so interesting seeing first-hand the physical demographics of my actual customers. Residents lift spirits during the pandemic with colorful doorstep displays.
IFW: You’ve started posting cool architecture you’re finding around town on your delivery routes. What inspired you to share these images?
TO: Well, I started taking pictures of my findings for a few reasons. First, I love old houses, unique architecture, cool signs, pretty neighborhoods, cool storefronts, and pretty much all the stuff that makes a city special. I thought, ‘If I’m going to be out here seeing all this stuff I love, I might as well share it in case other people love it, too!’
Second, with all the distancing, I really felt like it was important to stay connected with the community. Or rather, to keep my business connected to the community. You know that feeling you get when scrolling through social media and you see an area of town that you’re familiar with or that you grew up in? You feel included. Like: It’s your part of this city, this moment. I wanted everyone to feel these feelings of familiarity.
Third, I mean... what else am I going to fill my feed and stories up with? Hahaha! I had to think of something to post to stay fresh in everyone’s feed. That’s the least glamorous reason, but that’s business.
IFW: What are you learning about Fort Wayne based on what you're seeing during this pandemic?
TO: I’m learning that people are way more kind and supportive than I ever knew. People have left signs for me at their door, given me (and my daughter Eleanor) gifts and thank you notes, and shown so much gratitude through messages, posts, and shares. It’s been really lovely. And on top of that, by doing deliveries all around town, I’ve seen first-hand all the decorated porches, colored hearts, stuffed animals, and positive messages, which brings so much joy to my drop-offs. Some customers are leaving gifts for Taber and Eleanor on their doorsteps.
IFW: What is one thing that has been the most helpful to you as a small business owner right now?
TO: ABSOLUTELY, my website and my social media. That’s pretty much all I’m using. Oh, and the literal mountain of boxes and packing materials that I’ve been hoarding (not on purpose) in Fancy’s basement.
IFW: What is one thing that is the most challenging for you right now?
TO: Hard to choose just one because a lot of things are challenging me. But, I know the answer is most definitely having my three-year-old by my side all day! Have you ever tried to get anything done with a toddler running around? Especially getting work done. It’s darn near impossible. She’s a good sport, considering I let her snack non-stop and watch endless Disney princess and villain videos, but it is still hard. It’s hard because I know I could get so much more done without her with me and because she deserves way more fun than what I’m giving her. And don’t even get me started on the no-nap personality flip. Not fun y’all...
IFW: Anything else our readers should know?
TO: I just appreciate everyone’s support and orders so much. It’s keeping my little business alive, and I owe it all to you. I’d ask that we just keep up the momentum if possible and make sure to spread the love to other small businesses too. The fear of uncertainty about all of our futures is a real thing, and every little bit helps.
More architecture captured by Olinger
H. Souder & Son's General Store in Grabill.
This was the home of Philo T. Farnsworth, American inventor and television pioneer.