When we first moved to here in 1996, everyone we met said to be sure to look for downtown Littleton’s light display at Christmas time. I have to say, “look for” wasn’t exactly required. The historic area positively glows, even from our neighborhood nearly a mile away to the west. And the first building you’ll see coming from my direction, is the original
General Store, built by Julius Hill in 1872. It sits at the intersection of Santa Fe and Bowles, almost forcing traffic to flow in one-way directions around it, like a stone forces a creek to flow around. But, if you’re driving into downtown Littleton, be sure to stop. It’s well worth your while.
Today, the general store is a gift shop called Natural Surroundings Three Chimneys, owned by Karl and Terri Pappert. I stopped in yesterday to talk with Terri about her store and life in Littleton. We met just as her business was opening. Terri is a bright, energetic, and outgoing person with a ready smile a kind outlook on life. “I love my store,” she said on a smile. And she laughed about the Christmas lights.
“Oh, we have women come in all the time nearly begging us to keep the Christmas lights going,” she said. “Karl does them. He likes to.” She moved to a few light switches to brighten the interior of the shop.
Karl and Terri met on a blind date at the store in the early 1990’s, when she worked as an interior designer and he had an interior plant scape business. Karl had rented the building as a place to keep his plants. Terri had often seen the store from outside and loved it. Together, as they built their relationship and marriage of 18 years, and had a terrific son who is now 13, they also evolved his business into the gift store you see today.
“When we started, I remember it was during the Gulf War, we rented just these two rooms.” Terri swept her hands around to indicate the check-out area and a smaller
entrance room. Then she knelt to turn on a few more lights. The two areas house such things as jewelry, purses and gourmet foods.
“Back then, we filled the place with bird houses my dad and sister made. We also had lots of other homemade goods and plants. The plants were nice and big to fill up the rooms.”
At that time, the upstairs area was office space. Today the renovated space holds a small antique shop. We climbed a narrow staircase that felt like it might have been the original to turn on a few more lights.
Meanwhile, Terri and Karl have grown their business to the entire ground floor of the building, and over the years, the Pappert’s have acquired both the General Store building and the two historic buildings following it.
“We used to run the businesses in the other buildings, but one day Karl asked me who the woman was that had parked in one of our spaces. I had to tell him she worked for us.” Terri laughed. “That may have been when we decided to downsize a bit. You need to know the people who work with you.” Now the Papperts run Natural Surroundings Three Chimneys, and rent the other buildings to Vandel Antiques and Littleton Antiques & Such.
Although she didn’t mention it, Terri and Karl were part of the group who won citizens of the year in 2006; recognition for forming the Downtown Littleton Historic District. Their names are listed at the Town Hall Arts Center. The Papperts have helped show people how to make history beautiful by combining the past with care in the present.
“When we started, my mother-in-law took the floor to ceiling drapes that covered these windows and made these beautiful valances you see,” said Terri. “Karl’s dad and brother helped put in the carpeting and did some of the woodworking. My brother-in-law is an incredible woodworker. But I remember one day, he was here to work, and his little guy–who was three at the time–fell asleep in the back of his parked truck. We were only a few steps away in the store, so we let the boy sleep. Well, as we got busy the little one woke up and put the truck in gear. He backed up into the street!” Terri’s face still blushed at the memory, but with her positive attitude she simply added, “I guess you could say this store has been a family affair from the start.”
The Papperts’ positive influence shows throughout downtown. Though Terri takes no credit, she has noticed that in the past 10 years, Littleton has been cleaned up with new restaurants and stores, even the dirty windows on the two-story buildings have been washed and cared for. The fact that the Papperts keep their buildings in such good shape may not have had anything to do with it, but I doubt it.
I asked Terri what was the biggest challenge in running the store. “That’s easy. Turning on all the lights!” I counted her turning on at least fifteen different switches. There are no fluorescents in the store.
My favorite thought from Terri, however, goes to her business attitude.
“I have nothing to sell,” she said, “but personality and customer service. You can buy salad tongs anywhere, so I need to make sure you’re happy buying them here.”
I think Terri’s personality will make sure this store is busy for a long time to come.
And, my reading friend, Terri will be carrying Faith on the Rocks when it comes out next month. Please be sure to stop by this store to get your copy:
Natural Surroundings Three Chimneys
5738 Rapp Street, Littleton
Hope your day is full of delightful gifts, wherever you are.