When Carol Chestnutt, 74, first served a young gentleman as a waitress during summer break in college, she didn’t realize both he and Williamsburg would be so important to her for the next 50 years.
“It’s incredible how much can impact you before you even realize it,” she said. “But it’s time to move on.”
Carol Chestnutt is the co-owner of Chestnutt Bay Furnishings, along with her late husband, Tom Chestnutt. The business has been a staple of Lightfoot for about 26 years and opened its doors for the last time on Monday.
Carol is a native of North Carolina who met her husband, Tom, while waiting tables at Williamsburg Lodge’s coffee shop.
“I started serving him 50 years ago and I’d been serving him ever since,” she said.
In 2017 the couple celebrated 50 years of marriage but in August of that year he died. Carol fondly remembers the legacy they built together as she prepares to start her next chapter.
The furniture store was part of a long-term business plan that began in 1974 with a small flag business from inside their home. The store would eventually grow to open multiple locations and sell furniture and wood craft. Chestnutt wouldn’t necessarily call their successful business a plan when it first started, but more so something that merely sprouted from an idea and took off.
“I didn’t want to do it at first,” she said. “(My husband) was the entrepreneur. I just loved people. So he said to me, ‘Carol you like people, all you have to do is meet the people and if they want something that you have then sell it to him.’”
Their flag store became very popular selling wholesale in the Historic Triangle to places like The Williamsburg Pottery and Jamestown, she said. In 1976, Chestnutt and her family moved into what would be known as the Farm House American Crafts store, known for its iconic over-sized yellow chair in the front.
But when they first moved in, it was simply their family home and a place that Tom Chestnutt saw as holding greater opportunity.
“My husband came in one day and said ‘I think we ought to put a craft shop on the side of the house to give you something to do,’” she said. “Which was interesting because I had two young children and everything else to do, but he had this brilliant idea to do that and put a few pieces of furniture out on the front lawn and that was the beginning.”
The little family then started selling handmade wood items and crafts made by locals and family members. Eventually, the business became so popular the Chestnutts decided to open Chestnutt Bay Furnishings in 1993, which sold mostly upholstery and home furniture.
For the 26 years it was open, the furniture store was run by the family, including two of three of the couple’s children. Chestnutt said the business allowed her family to grow in the community that rooted them.
But in 2017, their flag store closed when the couple decided it was time to move on. And a year and a half after her husband’s death, Chestnutt decided it was time to move on from their furniture store, too.
“It’s a blessing that people have been willing to open their homes for us for so many years,” she said. “I mean that’s a personal thing, to invite someone and the things they sell into your home. And in this area, where there’s so many good people, well we have just felt privileged to be a part of it all.”
Chestnutt will donate whatever furniture is left to Williamsburg Christian Academy and Liberty Baptist Church. Now that she’ll have more free time, she said she wants to focus on ministry and continue growing her faith.