By BECKY ANDREWS
If you live in Wilson County, odds are you know them. Even if you’ve never been inside The Paper Mill, you have probably seen their work. A friend’s wedding invite, the monogrammed candle your sister gave you for Christmas, that Vera Bradley satchel your child’s teacher carried on the last field trip; those all came from Debra Winfree and Beth Sparks’ specialty store located on Lebanon’s historic square.
The mother/daughter team opened the doors in 2002, shortly after Beth graduated from college with a degree in Retail and Consumer Sciences. “I had run a direct mail and printing business for years and before Beth graduated, we decided to open up a store. But this was the first time we had an actual retail shop.” Debra says while simultaneously straightening a wedding invitation preview book.
That was in December of 2002. By 2003, The Paper Mill became not only the go-to shop for everything from birthday invites and fine artwork to eclectic jewelry, but it also helped reignite an interest in Wilson County’s downtown square. Soon other specialty shops began popping up all over the square. Beth adds, “There is architecture and a feeling you get from being on the square that you can’t get anywhere else. It was meant to be the center of town and I think people really miss that. That’s one of the reasons we love our location.”
Like any business, The Paper Mill has had ups and downs. From machine malfunctions to the May flood last year that forced most of the businesses on the square to close their doors for a few weeks because of water damage, they have weathered the storm. “It was a labor of love especially in the beginning. We had to learn what our shoppers liked not necessarily what we liked. So trial and error was a repeating theme that first year when we’d come back from market. Then, the flood! We were lucky because we saw it coming. Beth and I, along with our employees and volunteers, moved everything from the floor to higher ground. And not too long after we moved everything the water came rushing in. It was bad, but it could have been so much worse.” Debra says while holding the newest member of The Paper Mill team; her 19 month old granddaughter, Kate Sparks, who happens to be Beth’s daughter.
While they offer their own brand of specialty items, Beth and Debra love to use their storefront as a way to showcase the wares of many talented locals. Currently, Lisa Morse has a few pieces of her artwork displayed at the store. (They even hosted a book signing for two ‘funny ladies’ from Wilson County a few months back…hint, hint.)
While the ladies are always busy trying to bring the latest trends to Wilson County, (most recently the beautifully crafted Monique Lullier designer invites) they are never too busy to sit and chat with their customers who they often refer to as friends. Who would have known that outside of a bar in Boston, it’s also nice to walk into a stationary store where everyone knows your name? (reference to the TV sitcom Cheers)
The Paper Mill was the beginning of a successful partnership between mother and daughter. However, it also marks the beginning of another relationship between Beth and her husband, Ben Sparks. Because owning a business is hard work there’s very little time for a social life. So one day when a handsome young man came in to place an order at The Paper Mill, he struck up a conversation with Beth. One thing led to another and the two began dating. They were married in 2006 and in 2009, their family expanded with the birth of Kate.
Now that you know a little more about The Paper Mill, do yourself a favor and visit them to hear the rest.