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The Happy Cook Puts Smiles on Charlottesville Faces

by Micah Cheek

To navigate the ebb and flow of a college town, retailers often need to think outside the box. When school gets out in the summer, the population of Charlottesville, Virginia, declines and retail sales in the city suffer. By emphasizing the wedding registry, The Happy Cook brings in business from the beginning of wedding season just as students and faculty leave. “It’s because of the weddings; it pulls our numbers up during the summer months. That’s a problem we’re kind of able to skirt around,” says Owner Monique Moshier. “So we’re almost exactly flat through the year, with a big spike in December.”

Many of the couples who hold their weddings in the Charlottesville area are traveling there for a scenic destination wedding. To help make The Happy Cook an ideal registry for people who can’t frequently come into the store, Moshier revamped her website to increase the store’s online presence. “We’ve had an online presence, but our previous one wasn’t so robust, this one is fully integrated into our POS…. We needed to make sure our prices were instantaneously changed on the website; that just helps everything run smoothly for internet transactions. We didn’t want people to have some reservation about recommending us to a friend because they thought the shopping process wouldn’t be easy,” says Moshier. “There’s a few things we import that aren’t widely available, so we get some good traction from that. In this market you can’t really plan to do your website on All-Clad and Le Creuset, because all the big guys are doing that.”

Moshier first became involved with The Happy Cook as a college student. The owner was looking for a change, and sold the business to Moshier in 2005. “I could see working there how many improvements could be made, ways to make simple changes that would take it to the next level,” Moshier says. The Happy Cook moved to a nearby new location in 2009, nearly quadrupling the size of the store. “We moved across the crosswalk, we’re at about 4,000 square feet with offices and everything. We were able to increase our offerings and product. That was really what my goal was: it went from being a cute and fun place with robust offerings for the size but people didn’t think of it as a serious kitchen shop.”

Moshier made the move an opportunity to match the store’s style to the city of Charlottesville. “In our store, one of the big things we focus on is representing the Charlottesville aesthetic. A lot of stores are a little more utilitarian look. Our store has bright colors and custom features. We want it to feel like a home, so customers can imagine it being in their home,” says Moshier. “We’re technically in the South, but I don’t think of us as a very southern community. There’s a lot of history here; we took some influences into a French kind of influence, because Thomas Jefferson was a Francophile. That’s wormed its way into the Charlottesville style.”

As part of her changes, Moshier started to take advantage of the local social climate. Charlottesville benefits both from a strong preference for local foods and products and a steady stream of tourists visiting Virginia’s wine country. “Monticello, Jefferson’s home, is nearby. We do get a lot of tourism in general, for people doing wine tours, as well as the history and the university,” says Moshier. “Really great wine too. Around here locally they refer to Napa getting recognition from the French wines, and that’s what’s happening for us now. We’ve been at the housewares show and gone to restaurants and seen wines on the shelf from here.”

Local chefs, who often shop at The Happy Cook, are offered the chance to cook at store events. “We find it to be a great mix, people love to be taught by a chef whose restaurant they frequent. 80 percent of the classes we offer are taught by local chefs,” says Moshier. “A lot of these chefs, they own the restaurant. A lot of times they’ll do it so they can plug their restaurant as well. They like it too; they make some money doing it, and they get real close to someone who hasn’t been to the restaurant already.”

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