Entrepreneur extraordinaire

Flat River Cottage owner: It’s my play time

By EMMA PALOVA

Standing by a repurposed workbench at her shop, owner Rita Reister laughed heartily at the question, how did she get  started with Flat River Cottage antiques and art business. “Speaking about a five-year business plan, ha,” she said. “I had an empty building and I needed to fill it. I asked my sister if she had any furniture to put out on the floor.”

Rita Reister, owner of Flat River Cottage
Rita Reister, owner of Flat River Cottage

After remodeling the old building in 2005, now home of the Main Street Inn, Reister filled it with old and unique furniture. Having unique pieces, Reister soon outgrew the tight space. In 2007, she moved to 317 E. Main Street. The new location gave her two stories of sales space, plenty of parking spaces and near to Ella’s Coffee & Cuisine. “It’s beautiful,” she said.”I love it here. I have parking in the front and in the back.”

As part of the shop revamp, Reister added two new vendors: Night Forest Jewelry and big hitter Chalk Paint(R)  Decorative Paint by Annie Sloan. “With the paint, it has been absolutely unbelievable,” said Reister. “It’s an easy to use paint.” Since, there are only five places in Michigan, that sell the paint, the Flat River Cottage gets customers from all over the state. The other location for the paint is Michigan stockist R. Lucas Scott Co. in Holland, MI http://www.rlucasscott.com

” Rita is very much a class act, and I feel privileged  to be a part of Flat River Cottage,” said Night Forest Jewelry vendor Jeana Schwacha.

The other hot seller is industrial furniture such as the re-purposed work benches. “People use them for kitchen isles or buffets,” said Reister. They are heavy pieces which usually need a facelift, according to Reister.

“Any other trends?”

Definitely dressers in different styles painted or unpainted. Reister, a former tool & die supervisor for GM, is now retired and she can fully devote her infinite energy to the business. “I love it,” she said.”I can be creative. I meet the neatest people, not only customers but people from Lowell that I would have not met before.”

And most of all as Reister puts it,” I get to shop for the shop, I get to buy furniture.” So, Reister travels to auctions and estate sales to outfit her charming “cottage” on the east end of town. Among the challenges of the business are reasonable prices and finding quality furniture made from wood. “It’s harder and harder to find good pieces,” said Reister.

The hot work bench item with thick wood top runs around $440, while dressers average between $250 to $375. An unpainted dresser needing work may run around $180. “How about colors?” Without hesitating, Reister immediately responded, “Neutrals, beiges, grays, blacks. The world is so busy. We want to have a calm area to go home to. You want something that is your nest.”

The busiest times at the cottage are the annual Christmas through Lowell tour and seasonal Girls Night Outs (GNOs). “We need to have some fun,” said Reister. And she always does along with loyal customers during the fall and spring GNOs. During these events Reister always offers sangria or margaritas and tons finger food.

The Flat River Cottage is usually present at the annual Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce expos, held this year on March 22nd at the Lowell High School. During slower summers, Reister with sister Deb Urbanski try to figure out what the shop needs. Urbanski does the decorating and the themes.

The second floor at Flat River Cottage houses out-of-season items. The plans are to redo the upstairs. Customers appreciate little things like when Mary repainted a scratch on the furniture. Reister got a card saying, “it was perfect.” “That was really unexpected,” said Reister. “I don’t know if I would call this a job. Where else can you go and move stuff around to make it look nice.”

Whether it’s meeting new people during GNOs or Expos, Reister loves it all. “It’s my play time,” she said. And the chamber does a wonderful job of promoting businesses, according to Reister. “In a little town like Lowell, it is easier to promote businesses,” said Reister.

For more information go to: http://www.flatrivercottage.com

Lowell Community Expo, Main Street Inn, Michigan stockist



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