Lightfoot Manor closes after nearly four decades due to owner’s death

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Lightfoot Manor Shoppe closed in October. (WYDai;y/ Andrew Harris)
Lightfoot Manor Shoppe closed in October. (WYDaily/ Andrew Harris)

A glance through the window of Lightfoot Manor Shoppe reveals an array of leftover merchandise including brass jewelry boxes, baskets, tobacco jars, clocks and home décor made as gifts and for collectors.

A sign hanging to the left of the entrance says the store is closed but will reopen at 1:30 p.m.

The store in Patriot Plaza will not reopen, however, owner Donald Simpson said. Instead, the remaining merchandise will be liquidated.

Lightfoot Manor Shoppe opened in Williamsburg in 1981 and closed in October, as the health of Donald’s wife Mary Lou Simpson deteriorated.

Mary Lou died the week before Thanksgiving, taking with her nearly four decades of customized service to shoppers, collectors and visitors.

The girl for you

Mary Lou Simpson passed away in November. She had owned Lightfoot Manor Shoppe since 1981. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Donald Simpson)
Mary Lou Simpson died in November. She had owned Lightfoot Manor Shoppe since 1981. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Donald Simpson)

Donald and Mary Lou moved to Williamsburg in 1978 after a particularly brutal snowstorm hit their home in Connecticut and prompted the couple to move south.

They met in the early 1970s, after Mary Lou’s minister moved to Donald’s congregation. The minister quickly set the couple up, telling Donald, “’Boy, have I got the girl for you.’”

Six months later he proposed, she said yes and they were married within weeks — “Just enough time to plan the wedding,” Donald said.

They have been married for 46 years, most of those years spent making friends with the people who frequently stopped by their shop.

“It’s very difficult. I’m still kind of numb,” Donald said. “She was a lovely person. She lived her life with dignity and graciousness, and that’s what people enjoyed about her.”

Engraving a legacy

Mary Lou Simpson was known for her engraving. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Donald Simpson)
Mary Lou Simpson was known for her engraving. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Donald Simpson)

Shortly after moving Mary Lou began managing Lightfoot Manor, which at the time was in a restored farmhouse in Lightfoot.

She quickly took ownership of the business in 1981, Donald said, moving it to The Village Shops in Kingsmill in 1994 and then to its final home in Patriot Plaza in 2004. Along the way she opened a few satellite locations to help fill customer demand, but each closed long before her death.

Customers came to know her not only for the merchandise she carried, but the customization she provided, her husband said. Mary Lou engraved pewter, brass, silver, and jewelry, including items purchased in her store and items brought in from elsewhere.

She could engrave special messages on such items to customize them for the purchaser, who often requested their last name or hometown to be added to the item.

Products sold under the Olde Virginea Jar Company name, which was intentionally spelled in an antiquated manner to match the time period when colonists used glazed jars to store herbs, spices and other household goods, was also popular among her customers for decorating their houses.

Donald said his wife was always proud of her work and the smile it brought to her customers – some looking for gifts, others looking to decorate their own home. Her products were bought as gifts for senators, and for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, Donald said.

He added customers from out of town made sure to stop by her shop to say hello, even if they weren’t looking to buy anything. A large portion of their customers were Colonial Williamsburg visitors who wanted to bring back a piece of history on their way out of town.

Mary Lou ran the business but Donald said he began pitching in more and more over the last decade as her health declined. She dealt with rheumatoid arthritis since she was a teenager, as well as lupus and asthma.

She was confined to a wheelchair for the final 10 years of her life, but Donald said she always provided top-notch service and a smile to her customers.

“They always appreciated the way she took care of her customers,” he said. “If they needed it right away she would stay late into the evening.”

Her health never stopped her from enjoying Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg and going out with her friends.

“She was in pain 24 hours a day but she never complained,” her husband said. “If I had what she had I’d be in a corner, saying, ‘Leave me alone.’”

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