Blackwater able to buck trend, add businesses

Thursday, May 29, 2003

The small town of Blackwater, population 199, just east of the Saline-Cooper county line, has a business trend unlike many Missouri communities -- it is seeing fewer vacant storefronts.

Within the last year, the town gained a gift shop, photography establishment, another antique store and reopened a hotel with a restaurant on the premises.

Many people attribute the change to the town's beautification efforts, such as the growing number of flower gardens. Two people who think the gardens make a world of difference are shop owners and garden club members Dana Nichols and Dara Watson.

Nichols, 28, and Watson, 33, grew up in Boonville, but Watson gained ties to Blackwater over a decade ago when she married Rob Watson, whose family lives in the area. The sisters opened Sunflower Company in early December.

"Opening the store is always something we wanted to do," Nichols said. "When they started fixing up the town, and we could get a store for (a) really reasonable (price), it just made sense to do it here."

Watson said she's seen enormous change in the town. "I've seen it to where it was nothing downtown, to them fixing it up to where it's somewhere people want to stop," she said.

Exposures, a photography business separate from the Sunflower Company, is owned by Watson. "Right now it's in the back of the shop," Watson explained.

Although she has a professional equipment for the studio, she prefers to take photos outdoors. "It's nice to have gardens and stuff in town because they make great pictures," she said. "I like personality, I don't like posed."

Nichols explained her sister started getting involved with photography after taking photos of her children. "It was obvious she had an eye for it," Nichols said.

Last August, Watson took a family photograph of three brothers, beginning her work as a paid photographer. She said she averages one photography customer per week, having taken pictures of weddings, children, newborns, seniors and pets. Exposures is open by appointment.

The Sunflower Company, which sells candles, beaded jewelry, mats and gifts, is open Thursday through Sunday while its owners continue working full-time in Columbia.

"We'd love to be open all week long (at Sunflower Company)," Watson said. "We have to keep our jobs until we start making a profit here."

The sisters hope to make enough money in two years to work solely at the Blackwater store, but they realize they are just at the beginning point.

"We get more traffic off the interstate then we thought (we would)," Nichols said. "We had a big grand opening. We did really well that day."

Watson and Nichols select much of their merchandise from wholesale operations in Kansas City. They said about 10 percent of what they carry, such as paintings on barn wood, hand-sewn crafts and wreaths, is by local craftspeople on consignment.

Watson said she wants to add linens and baby items, and may coordinate wedding photography with the Iron Horse Inn across the street in the future.

Nichols said when people stop in at the store, they like the atmosphere.

"They think it's cute, it smells good, and it's different from everything else in town because it's not antique," she said.

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