The founder and creative force behind the popular furniture and home decor store Wheaton’s has died.
Kay Wheaton’s obituary said she died of cancer on Dec. 24 at the age of 70. It said her husband, Garnet, was by her side.
Wheaton’s employees, customers, friends and neighbours in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley are remembering Kay as a hands-on, family-oriented woman who is leaving a big hole in the community.
“She was very well-known,” said David Bradford, Wheaton’s operations manager. “When people would see her in the store, they knew her, whether it was from a poster on the wall in the store or if she had done TV commercials or singing at a retirement home or at her church.
“She was a member of the community as well as a business person.”
Bradford, who has been with the company for 22 years, said he sat at a desk next to Kay for years.
“She was still in the stores and working for the entire 32 years of the business right up until the last few weeks,” he said. “So, there was no lack of getting some vision and some insight and inspiration from her because she was there all the time helping in the store, helping in the office.”
A news release on Monday from Wheaton’s stores said Wheaton got the idea to get into home decor decades ago as a way to make extra money when two of her children needed braces. She started out making handmade crafts and decorating fresh wreaths to sell out of her family home in Berwick, N.S.
According to the company website, Kay soon needed a bigger location to sell her work, so Garnet began renovating the family’s barn into a country store. They opened the barn as the first Wheaton’s store in 1990.
The rest of the family began to get involved in the endeavour.
Kay’s son, Seth, started building pine furniture in the family’s basement. Over time, his woodworking venture has expanded to a production facility that employs around 20 people who produce pine, oak and maple furniture for Wheaton’s stores.
In the mid-90s, Wheaton’s began to expand and a second store was opened in Moncton, N.B. A few years later, a location in Lower Sackville, N.S., opened.
There are now six locations across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Though multiple family members pitched in, Kay was the creative force behind the company, says the obituary.
“It was her appreciation of beautiful things, and her ability to select merchandise that made the business successful and the stores an enjoyable experience for all,” it said.
The company’s release says Garnet Wheaton will remain the leader of the company.
Bradford said many of the store’s customers still call it “Kay Wheaton’s” and that the essence of the company came from her.
“She, I think, woke up every day and was looking to help others…. Even in the last few months, she was trying to make sure that everybody knew that they were valued and knew that they were doing a great job,” he said.
“It is called ‘Kay Wheaton’s’ for a reason and … we’ll try and keep that memory going for as long as I’m with the company.”
The obituary and statement described Kay as a religious woman who loved her four children and 13 grandchildren.
“She could be seen pulling weeds, filling shelves and decorating Christmas trees,” the release said. “She will be missed but not forgotten.”