You might say Donna Snyder likes to paint the town red. Snyder, owner and manager of The Red Bench, an antiques and collectibles mecca in downtown Silverton, didn’t waste any time adding a large touch of red to Water Street when she opened in 2005.
A risk-taker, the tall blonde with sparkling blue eyes made a big change, taking the building from a periwinkle-blue and hunter-green scheme to the current tan with red. She was one of the first businesspeople to create a new look for downtown and others quickly followed her lead.
For her, getting the painting job accomplished was a no-brainer. “The first thing I knew had to be done was I had to paint the front of the store,” said Snyder. “I asked Jamie Johnk (a consultant who was then working with downtown Silverton stores) what she thought of having a painting party and barbecue. About 10 other chamber members and downtown merchants showed up, and we were done by 1 that day.”
Snyder got her feet wet by working for other dealers as a “picker,” someone who discovers many of the items that antiques dealers sell. Selling some of her finds in a corner of O’Brien’s Café, where she waited tables, was her initial venture into the world of running a business.
She found the courage to do it, she said, although “It was scary… I kind of took little steps, getting the building and breaking the work down into projects. I had a business plan and I decided to make excellent customer service a big point.
“I went out of my way to help people, and I still do. It’s part of my nature to help people, and a happy atmosphere was in my business plan.”
She attracts customers by being open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. “I saw people who came in brought their friends and relatives back. I grew by word of mouth. When I’m having an event, such as live music or sales, I do print advertising of some kind.”
In the business for a total of 15 years, Snyder has learned to search for second-hand items that both attract a customer’s eye and fit in more than one collecting area. Tools, for instance, are purchased for collections, actual use and home décor. The Red Bench also carries many new items.
Cupboards, tables and dressers are abundant in the store. Women shoppers find home décor, dishes and old prints; men, fishing equipment, tools, knives and collectibles such as the glass marbles of yesteryear.
Some of the vendors sell their things in exchange for working at the store’s counter. “If they want a booth here they have to help during store hours,” Snyder said. “It works out awesome for me and for them.”
Is competing with a newly restored Goodwill store and other attractive shops helpful or a headache? “It’s a totally positive thing, and I buy from Goodwill,” she said. “We’re all in it together, and we help each other.”
“The more stores that are open, the more people come,” she said, adding, “It’s one of the reasons I opened Mayberrys. We need more retail downtown – it adds to the appeal of Silverton.”
Snyder took another risk when she put in Mayberrys, another specialty shop catering more to men, just across the street. “I opened just before the local economy crashed in December ’09,” Snyder said, “and as with all the other businesses, we’re waiting for the economy to turn.”
She also stepped up and took over coordinating July 4th’s Old Stuff on Main Street event several years ago. Something about Snyder her customers may not know is that she’s found a new love, riding motorcycles. She’s been a fan for about a year, riding behind a friend. “My first ride, I loved it. I liked seeing the sights and smells – it appeals more to your senses, and I don’t think of it as dangerous, I like to go fast,” she laughed. “I have no fear at all. (But) I wear all the equipment, and I encourage people to be safe.”
Seeing that more and more professionals are riding motorcycles these days, Mayberrys is adding motorcycle collectibles, home décor and Harley-Davidson clothing.
Growing up in Idaho as one of 11 children, Snyder said she learned some of her skills from her mother. “I watched my mom being thrifty as she shopped – she had to be.” She’s lived in Silverton 16 years and has three children, one of whom, Elizabeth, watches the store on Mondays.
Running her stores satisfies the Harley-riding, risk-taking Snyder. “Daily, people come in and say ‘this is exactly what I’ve been looking for’ or ‘this is the coolest store.’ That’s what is rewarding about my job: When they’re happy, I’m happy.”