by Terry Rogers
Not Too Shabby owners Don Vaughan and Will Payton spent Tuesday, December 3, 2019 getting ready for their annual Open House that was scheduled for that Saturday. Payton created flowers for a funeral the next day, working into the evening. Vaughan attended a Downtown Milford, Inc. (DMI) meeting since he was vice-president of the organization.
“The meeting ended about 7ish,” Vaughan said. “We had decided to go to Arena’s for dinner that evening so I ran home to pick up William. I left the car running in the driveway and told him to come on because I was getting hangry. Our phones were blowing up but that was not unusual that time of year. We both just decided to ignore the phones and go eat dinner. Our friend, Steve Stutzman, called while we were finishing dinner and said our building was on fire.”
Payton explained that he initially thought people were seeing smoke from the chimney as he had filled the pellet stove before he left and the wind was blowing.
“I said, oh, it is nothing,” Payton said. “We saw it all the time when it was a windy day. The pellet stove smoke blew around the building. We rode over there and realized quickly that it was not the pellet stove.”
The fire destroyed the building along with the flowers for the funeral then next day and all the inventory for the Open House. The next morning, members of the community pulled together to create a fund raiser for the two men and Abbott’s Mill volunteered to let them sell at their “Foraged: Merry Market” that Saturday with businesses donating items for the “Not Too Shabby Emporium.” DMI agreed to accept cash donations and John Mollura arranged a GoFundMe. The same day, Payton and Vaughan purchased flowers so that Payton could recreate the arrangements for the funeral.
“We finished the flowers and delivered them to the funeral home at ten minutes before noon and the funeral started at noon,” Payton said. “I simply could not tell those people that “sorry, your mother won’t have flowers at her funeral.” A few days later, he headed to Pennsylvania with a friend while another friend and I headed to New Jersey to buy items for the sale. We had people in our kitchen pricing things until 3 AM when I finally said “you guys need some sleep” and sent them all home.”
For the next few weeks, Payton and Vaughan were humbled by the outreach from the community. Both had strangers coming up to them and offering them cash, telling the two men that they didn’t know them, had never been in the store but had heard about them and wanted to help.
“We just don’t understand why we were so blessed by this community,” Vaughan said, getting emotional when he spoke about the outpouring from others. “It has been rough. Even though we have had so much support, there is also some backlash. A lot of people have opinions about a fire that happened in a building we did not own.”
At the time of the fire, Cat Perfetti, co-owner of Delaware Branding was in Italy, returning home just after Christmas. She contacted Vaughan and Payton to offer the empty building next to their store that she and her husband, Mike, own in order for Not Too Shabby to open again.
“Cat would not take no for an answer,” Vaughan said. “I won’t lie. There was a very heated discussion between William and I about whether we should open again. This was tragic for us. We would be out to lunch or dinner, trying to put this behind us when someone would come up and offer their sympathy. It would bring it all back up again. What finally convinced him was that I felt we owed it to the community to open again. They clearly supported us and I just felt it was the right thing to do. People gave us money when no one had any, during the Christmas season. We wanted people to see we were strong.” Vaughan explained that the flower side of the business was as busy during the holidays as the retail side.
Vaughan and Payton looked at the building on Sunday night, they moved in on Monday and opened at the new location on Tuesday. The location was much smaller than the Rehoboth Boulevard location so there was not enough room to adequately create flower arrangements. Payton ended up doing most of the flower work at home in order to have enough room. Payton said that the two just wanted to get to December 24th so they could breathe and then decide what the next step would be.
“We would have people order flowers with an order that was like $40 with an $8 delivery fee,” Vaughan said. “And they would then tell me to add $30. I would tell them they did not have to do it, but they would insist. I have to say it was hard for us. We are people who like to do for others, so it is hard to take from others.”
After the holidays, the two men took some time off to regroup. When they returned, they decided to start looking for a larger location. The Perfetti’s were in no hurry for them to go, but they knew the location was too small. They looked at several buildings before finding one that would work temporarily in the Chaney Building on the corner of Rehoboth Boulevard and Northeast Front Street.
“Friends put together a Quarter Auction for us and that is how we got in this building,” Vaughan said. “The building is good, but we don’t have the room we need for the flowers and we can’t hold classes on refinishing furniture like we could before. The first building was so perfect for us and it makes us sad that it is gone.”
Vaughan explained that in discussions with Joan Maloney, who owns the building that caught fire, it will need to be demolished due to the extensive damage. That means they are still searching for the perfect location. They want to remain in Milford because it was the Milford community that stood behind them when they needed it.
“We love when people come in here and ask where to grab a bite to eat,” Vaughan said. “I have sent people to Dolce and actually showed someone photos of empanadas from My Sister’s Fault one day. We love this town and we love that the town loves us. This location is great, but we don’t have the visibility we had before. Last weekend, we held an open house in the parking lot, inviting some of our artisans where they set up tables and were able to sell directly. We have talked to our landlord, Joe Wiley, and he is keeping an eye out for a better location as well.”