Meet Bill Blevins, owner of Smithfield Flags
Although Smithfield Flags owner Bill Blevins says he “fell into” retail, he must be doing something right having run 2 successful shops on Smithfield’s Main Street for over 49 years!
Closed for almost 10 years, folks still stop by to tell Bill how they miss Ben Franklin Variety Store, the shop he owned prior to Smithfield Flags. Ben Franklin was a local fixture and visitor favorite, but when it came time to retire, Bill wasn’t ready. So when the variety shop closed on August 31, 2007, Smithfield Flags opened in the same location on September 1!
“Flags were by far my best selling item at Ben Franklin. I think stores gave up on flags before people did,” explains Bill. And with visitors coming to town just to stop by his shop, his hunch has proven correct.
This sense of knowing what customers want may be his secret to running a popular small business for in a small town for so long- no small feat. But Bill has been in retail since 1958!
Born in Glade Spring, Virginia, Bill’s family moved to South Norfolk when he was 13. In 1958 he went to work for the Ben Franklin store in Chesapeake. “I did everything there. I was the janitor, sweeping floors, cleaning windows, emptying trash. I also put toys together and decorated windows. Eventually I had done every job there was to do in the store, so when they were opening a new Ben Franklin in Smithfield in 1964, I took the job as manager there.”
Bill purchased the shop in 1980, having worked there for 16 years. When Taste of Smithfield opened in 2010, Bill relocated to his present location.
Bill says he raised his son, Marshall there. “Marshall’s been here since before he was born! We didn’t hire babysitters, he was just always there, running around, playing with the toys, but also helping out as he got older.” Marshall now works with his father at the Flag Shop, becoming an official employee and part-owner when it opened 9 year ago.
If you think that Smithfield Flag shop only sells flags, you couldn’t be more mistaken. Everywhere you turn in this colorful shop, there’s something fun and unique on display, such as mailbox covers, floor mats, wind chimes, musical picture frames, decorative spinning hot air balloons, crocheted lace table runners, doilies and mantle scarves, metal bird yard statuary, and popular this time of year – all types and styles of kites.
Of course, garden and house flags are still Bill’s best-selling items and Bill takes pride in offering the newest in flag designs and materials. There’s a world of designs to choose from: seasonal, holidays, special occasions, beach themes, patriotic, military branches, college and professional sports teams, even a section for Harley-Davidson fans.
When asked where he’d like to go on vacation, Bill says he’d just as soon stay close to home, working in his garden or on an old car he’s restoring, or just hanging out with Marshall and their two feline family members Snugg and Chessie. Retail must truly be in his blood now because Bill is much more animated when he describes what he loves most about owning Smithfield Flags, “…ordering and displaying new merchandise, interacting with customers, and being a part of the town.”
When pressed for a story about a particular customer, Bill says, “Well, people tell me all the time they come to town just to visit the shop. I just had a grandmother stop by with her granddaughter. She’d been telling her granddaughter all about us and they decided to make the trip here together.”
Just like a flag is more than just a piece of colored fabric, operating a shop is about more than just the bottom line. Building wonderful memories for visitors and customers, adding a touch of beauty to their homes, and sustaining a lovely shop on Smithfield’s Main Street for almost 50 years – Smithfield Flags is flying high!
207 Main Street, Smithfield, Virginia, (757) 357-2600
Hours: Smithfield Flags is open 7 days a week!
Sunday: 12:00 noon – 5:00 p.m., and Monday through Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Facebook: Smithfield Flags