Memory of her father inspires Ray to open business
For Jennifer Ray, owner of Mudpies and Fireflies gift shop at 1960 N. Washington St., this Father’s Day will be bittersweet. It’s her first without her father.
Mike Austin of Lynchburg died just two weeks after Father’s Day last year. He died at age 61 after a 20-year battle with cardiac disease.
But in spite of years of terrible health, Ray said, “he just lived really fully and loved people completely.”
And it was his funeral service that “unearthed this thing in me,” she said.
For more than 10 years, even while she was teaching school at Robert E. Lee Elementary School, Ray had wanted to open a store.
“I have that entrepreneur-type spirit,” she said. And her father’s passing was “a reminder of just how fragile life is and how you should go for it and you should take chances and you should just do what you love.”
And so, with her husband Jason, Ray decided it was finally time to embark on her entrepreneurial journey.
“My husband and I had really been praying and seeking where is it and how is it that we are supposed to really impact our community and, as we dreamed about this place, it just became apparent to me that when people walk in my door, I get to share hope with them and life with them and the good stuff and the bad stuff and that was just really what our desire was, to be a positive place in our community.”
By early winter, they had begun contacting vendors and selecting their inventory, but they did not yet know exactly where their shop would be located.
So they decided, “We’re just going to pray about it through the month of January and see if anything happens. Because location became the big deal for us. It wasn’t what we were going to do or what the business was – we had a clear idea about those things – but location was a little tricky.”
They had looked at a couple of different spots, she said, “but nothing really seemed like that was it.”
Then, in January, store owner Ashley Brinkley of Brinkley’s Home Décor and Gifts posted online that her store would be going out of business.
Ray knew immediately that the North Washington store, tucked between 21th Century Decorating and Paint Works, would be their new home.
“That’s our location,” she said. “I know that’s where we’re supposed to be.”
So the next morning she called building owner Coy Brinkley and, by that afternoon, she had arranged to move in.
As the Mudpies and Fireflies store began to take shape, Ray said, Ashley Brinkley served as a “blessing” and mentor. “She’s been so good to me during this process. She has given me great wisdom and I’m very thankful for that.”
The new store opened in April with an inventory that Ray said serves “all ages, all occasions.”
Items run the gamut from baby and bridal gifts to home décor and personal gifts, including Vintage Pearl hand-stamped jewelry; South brand hand-poured soy candles; gourmet dips, jellies, jams, marinades and rubs; collegiate and faith-based inspirational gifts; and apparel from companies such as Volunteer Traditions, Southern Shirt Co. and God Is Everything.
Mudpies and Fireflies also offers vinyl or embroidery personalization services, a baby and bridal registry and free gift wrapping.
“Our idea is that it’s one stop: buy your gift and walk out ready to give it.”
Shoppers can follow the store online via Facebook and Instagram for announcements of coming events, specials or promotions. And if a customer is looking for something specific and can’t find it, all he or she has to do is let Ray know.
“We really want to meet a need here so that you don’t have to drive to Murfreesboro to get a cute gift or you don’t have to feel like you have to order it online.”
At any given time, shoppers are also likely to meet one of the Ray’s three children – Carrington, Anna Claire and Colson – all of whom are homeschooled in a room in the back. “It’s a family affair,” said Ray. “They are definitely very involved.”
“I really think it was all inspired by my dad, who he was, how he lived and what he taught me – that you can do anything,” said Ray.
And what her father left her helped to make the endeavor possible. “This was the good that came out of a tragic situation.”
Visit Mudpies and Fireflies from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday or between 10:30 and 1:30 (summer hours) on Saturday.