How We Transformed Our Store From An Empty Box to A Fun Retail Space On A Small Budget


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When you walk into a shop–not a grocery store or big box store, but a boutique or mom and pop shop, or specialty shop–what do you notice first besides the merchandise? The lighting? The fixtures? The way it smells? Or maybe the way it makes you feel? Is it welcoming? Cozy? Bright and exciting? Sleek and modern? We’ve all been in stores that make us want to come back, and unfortunately, we’ve also been in stores that we have no interest in going back to. Maybe it’s messy, or disorganized. Maybe it smells funky, Maybe the store is fine, but the vibe is off. Building a brick and mortar space entails a lot more than just putting products on shelves and opening the doors!

When we moved into our current space, it had been vacant for 7-8 years and had previously been a Hallmark store. When the previous tenants left, they removed their fixtures, spackled the holes, and split. We got a big empty rectangle that desperately needed paint, but was in otherwise great condition. In comparison, the space that we had occupied for three years had mold and asbestos, holes in the flooring, half the light fixtures didn’t work, the windows and floor shook when a truck went by, and the floor was rotting in the back room. Oh–and the back door was held closed by a large wooden beam since the lock barely worked. Can we say upgrade? Oh yeah.

While I would love to have afforded new fixtures that actually match, wood floors, and great lighting, that wasn’t possible. Besides, the mix of fixtures that we have is fun and quirky and suits our style! Someday maybe we can get the floors and the lights, but in the meantime, we kept the basic but durable carpeting and the fluorescent lights.

The first thing that we did was buy paint–a LOT of paint. We chose a super pale gray that changes the look of the walls depending on the time of day and what kind of light is coming in the windows. Sometimes it’s gray, sometimes it’s blue, sometimes it’s lavender. It’s magic paint!!! Seriously–it’s just a nice neutral that looks great with the fixtures and the merchandise. The old store was painted eggplant. I loved it, but it was dark and didn’t showcase the stuff we were trying to sell very well.

Once the walls were finished and the store lost that musty, unused smell, it was on to building the stage. We host music, storytelling, Celtic nights, meetings, and other events, so we wanted a dedicated stage area in the back of the store. We had risers set up in the front corner of the old store that worked alright, but this is so much better.

half finshed stage

We bought sheets of paneling at Home Depot that look like pallet wood and nailed them to the back wall. See what the right side looked like before the paneling went up? That’s what the whole store looked like before we painted.

finished stage

We also bought 2×6 boards and plywood to build the stage, and covered it with thin carpeting. We painted the door in chalkboard paint to blend in better with the paneling. The plan eventually is to have a local artist decorate it, which is why we went with chalk paint instead of plain old black paint. The sign was actually the exterior sign from our first location, that the city said we couldn’t use at the second location. We planted it in the middle of a sheet of plywood and covered it with vinyl records (NOTE: no playable vinyl was used in the making of this sign). Voila! Stage sign. With the help of some strong friends, we got it hoisted up onto the wall and attached it with strong fasteners.

Then we moved on to figuring out where all the fixtures were going to go. We have a collection of fixtures that we bought new, things we bought secondhand, things we were given, a few family pieces, and things that people just dropped off out of the blue. We even have an old hospital gurney holding crates of records! It’s perfect for holding the weight of the albums. Luckily, all we had to buy for the new space was gridwall for the art wall, and wooden crates for the records (we upgraded from cardboard boxes and it looks so much better). Even though we’re in a bigger space, we didn’t need to buy much because we inherited some awesome fixtures from a store that had gone out of business and got a some from a friend who had renovated her store.

These photos show roughly what the store looks like today, a year after moving in, though we’ve added more art to the walls.

The other side of the room holds vinyl records, CDs, DVDs, comics, our sitting areas, and the register area. It also has our featured artist of the month section, which is in the front corner of the store.

So that’s it! I wrote this post because I LOVE looking at store fixtures and signage and displays on Pinterest. It’s great to see a beautiful store that was put together by an interior designer and looks amazing, but most independent store owners don’t have the same resources that chain stores do. I like taking inspiration from what others have done on a shoestring, and I hope that what we’ve done can inspire someone else the same way!

If you find yourself in Williamsburg, Virginia, come by and say hello! Retro Daddio is located at 6610 V Mooretown Road, Williamsburg, VA 23188. (757) 220-1876 or check us out at




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