A Store for Themselves

The husband-and-wife team behind Livi’s Market created a place where they love to shop.

A Store for Themselves

March 2024   minute read

By: Sarah Hamaker

Name of company: Livi’s Market

Date founded: March 2023

# of stores: 1

Where do you go for gourmet and niche grocery items in a small town? For Livi and Thomas Harlow, it’s their own convenience store. “We didn’t set out to open a convenience store,” said Livi Harlow. “But when we moved from Richmond, Virginia, to Irvington, we wanted access to the food products we could find in Richmond but not in this more rural area.”

When they spotted a vacant Citgo station, the pair partnered with Thomas’s father to create a store they would like to shop in. “The location is right in the heart of town and we figured we could learn the gas side of things while we focused on setting up our own gourmet market with classic candies, lottery, soda, snacks, international grocery products, fine wines, beer and fine jewelry,” Livi said.

Because the building had been unused for two years, they updated the exterior and interior with a butcher block checkout counter and stainless steel racks. “I looked to Instagram for inspiration, and decided on a light blue and navy blue color scheme inside and out to reflect the flow of the nearby Rappahannock River,” she said. “We wanted the store to be warm, clean and inviting.”

The Finer Things

For the Harlows, stocking the store started out as simply bringing in products they enjoyed. For example, Livi’s Market has a selection of finer wines than would be normal in a convenience store. “Thomas and I have always enjoyed wine, so we have a large wine selection with a chilled wine cooler that has real champagne and rose,” Livi said. The store carries organic and natural wines, which the Harlows choose through tastings with wine distributors.

The personal recommendation is one they carry throughout the store. “We’ve tried everything in the shop, whether it’s probiotic soda or wine,” she said. “If we carry it, we’ve sampled it because we don’t want to carry something we’re not proud of. As we tell our customers, we would serve every product to guests in our own home.”

“We enjoy explaining our mission and what we’re about while helping them pick up what they need.”

A few months ago, Livi decided to add fine jewelry. “We describe Livi’s Market as a gift shop for food, so expanding our jewelry seemed like a natural progression,” she said. Originally the store’s jewelry had a “really approachable price point,” but when customers expressed interest in more gift-type items, she brought in gold and pearl necklaces, among other fine jewelry. “Those have been very popular, especially during the holiday season,” Livi said. “People are always looking for something new and different.”

The Harlows also love supporting small and local artisans and businesses. “We source from all over, and carry local products too,” Livi said. “Our main goal is to carry products that are ethically and sustainably made, as well as supporting women-, black-, and LGBT-owned businesses. We feel very strongly about ensuring our retail operations are in line with this mission.”

A Conversation Starter

Since Livi and Thomas work at the store, they spend a lot of time talking to customers. “Our customers are intrigued when they walk in and see higher-end handbags and jewelry, plus our fine wines and gourmet food, so we enjoy explaining our mission and what we’re about while helping them pick up what they need,” Livi said. “The best thing about being in a small town is having regulars. When they walk through the door, we know their names.”

Locals and visitors stop by to buy items for entertaining, such as premade dips, cheese and crackers, and many Asian, Indian, Japanese and Mediterranean food brands. “These are the types of foods we enjoyed in Richmond, but aren’t readily available here,” Livi said. While the store doesn’t have its own foodservice yet, the Harlows have partnered with a local chef who prepares grab-and-go dinners for two, sandwiches and dips for carryout at the store.

“We hope those who stop by feel welcomed,” she said. “We want our regulars and visitors to feel like they’re stopping by our house as our guests.”

Bright Ideas

Since the store opened, Livi’s Market owners Livi and Thomas Harlow have invited other vendors to do popups at their store. “Especially when there are town events, like a parade, we get a food truck or other local vendor to come in and stay for the day in our parking lot,” she said.

For example, on the Fourth of July, a gourmet sausage vendor set up shop. “This introduces our customers to niche or unusual items while giving us a chance to try new products,” Livi said. “We also love to bring in the people who make the things we carry so they can meet our customers. It definitely gives those products a nice sales boost in our store afterwards, too.”

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer, NACS Magazine contributor, and romantic suspense author based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at sarahhamakerfiction.com.

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