It is always interesting to ask folks who move to Alleghany County – “What path brought you here?” For Laura Murden, owner of The Vintage Cottage on Main Street in Sparta, the short answer is that her family came each December to buy a Christmas tree and one year decided to stay. The long answer involves a bit more travel, tasty pastries, scented candles and organic soap.
The daughter of a cowboy, Laura was born on a working ranch in Montana. Her family lived there until she was three years old when they moved crossed country to Virginia. She spent her teenage years in Suffolk, Virginia before drifting south to North Carolina’s Outer Banks (OBX).
On the Outer Banks, Laura went to work in one of the area’s oldest restaurants, Owens’ Restaurant, as a pastry chef. The demand for her desserts grew and she was soon furnishing pastries to another OBX culinary landmark, Big Al’s Soda Fountain and Grill. It was through Big Al’s that Laura was invited to spend the day off-shore tuna fishing on Big Al’s yacht with the Food Network’s star chef, Guy Fieri. She was the chef for the day for Guy and the Food Network crew. Yet even with that level of success, life isn’t simply filled with pastries, yachts and ocean winds.
It is an unfortunate fact that in areas such as coastal North Carolina, the core businesses – restaurants, retail, and real estate – are somewhat seasonal in nature. That leads residents to explore sources for supplemental income. For Laura, that took the form of homemade soaps and laundry detergents.
Using paraben and sulfate free ingredients, her soaps proved attractive to those concerned about the impact of chemicals on their health. She utilizes goat’s milk and also produces a vegan variety. Owens’ carried Laura’s soaps in their gift shop. As word of the quality of her products spread, she was soon wholesaling to 17 retail outlets.
The soap business led to candle making. Following her focus on producing a healthy alternative to commercial soaps, she uses nongmo vegetable oil wax and scents her candles with essential oils. She doesn’t use petroleum based paraffin wax which has been linked to health risks.
Once her family decided to trade the smell of suntan lotion for evergreen, she explored options for her soap and candle business. Moving into a shop on Main Street in July 2014, she added ice cream and smoothies (Laura managed two high traffic Dairy Queens for a while at OBX, giving her a good grasp of the ice cream business). She tagged the shop The Vintage Cottage.
The Vintage Cottage is moving toward only selling North Carolina produced products. As with her previous experience at the Outer Banks, retail business in Sparta has slow periods. So, Laura continues to sell her products wholesale and online at The Vintage Cottage Soap and Candle Co. She can be found throughout the summer at the recently renovated Alleghany County Farmers Market. As many small businesses have discovered, being adaptable and taking a multifaceted retail approach are key elements to success.
Laura and her family are committed to service and community. She and her husband have four children and are active in Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Sparta. Laura employs high school students in whom she seeks to instill business skills that they can use later in life. She believes in helping the students along the path to entrepreneurship. It is one of many ways she seeks to invest in her adopted home.
2 thoughts on “Laura Murden and The Vintage Cottage”
I recently met Laura & Steve Murden at the Sparta, NC Farmer’s Mkt. I was drawn to her beautiful vintage handcrafted items. She was so informative regarding her handmade soaps & candles, teaching me things I never knew about how candles and soap are made. Also why her products were crafted with attention to them being as pure and healthy as possible. Well when I first tried her soap I realized just what I had missed out on- it is awesome! The same goes for her beautiful candles! They smell so pure and wholesome! If you like delicious Ice Cream, her shop in Sparta boasts hand-dipped Hershey’s Ice Cream-!! In my humble opinion- you just don’t get much better-! We loved sitting in her vintage cottage shop eating the huge cones of Ice Cream when we visited her in downtown Sparta! What a treat THAT was-!! Laura and her husband are extremely nice, warm and friendly, the type of couple you feel you’ve known all of your life-! I am thrilled to have found their Ice Cream and Vintage Cottage Store in Sparta, NC! We are now forever fans and plan to enjoy the fruits of their generous labor hence forth-!!
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