An Interview with The Lady Jane

Author | Laurie Whelden

If you’ve lived in Harrisonburg for any length of time and needed to find the perfect gift for someone, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve shopped at The Lady Jane. The shop, owned and curated by Sara Christensen, just celebrated its 10th anniversary this summer. Here, I talk to Sara about her inspirations for the shop, her advice for those starting their own businesses, and her determination to speak up for what she believes in.

Your shop is so curated - when you walk in there's a real sense of cohesion. How has your sense of style evolved over the past ten years? Is there anything you love that doesn't go into the shop?

Thank you so much! Buying for the shop or finding artists to partner with is usually guided by emotion -- I search for delight, joy, or being uplifted in some way. My hope for each person that comes into the shop leaves feeling like they had a moment away from general life chaos, that they were cared for, and encouraged. I hope to always practice ethical sourcing, and to support as many independent businesses / individual makers as possible.

Sometimes our little space keeps me from bringing in everything I'm tempted by, but it probably also helps to keep my ordering in check!

How would you define your style? Does the shop reflect your home tastes as well?

I love layering colors and patterns; filling walls to the brim with art and books, things that are both sentimental and joyful. Houses are such a reflection of the lives and stories of the people within -- the reason for naming the shop after my favorite author :). I am drawn to warm colors, soft florals, and the coziness of a slightly squishy, hodgy-podgy space.

Obviously your shop was influenced by Jane Austen. I've never read her! What book of hers do you recommend the most? What books are you loving right now?

She's a delight!! For any new Austen reader, I'd highly recommend an audiobook version of Pride + Prejudice narrated by Rosamund Pike (who portrays Jane Bennet in the Focus Film version!) as the first reading/listening. But my very favorite Austen heroine is Anne Elliot from Persuasion. Regency-era classics are such a fun escape, with satire on the classicism / sexism of that time -- but for those who find the 1800s language difficult to read (like myself, often!), the BBC and PBS adaptations are always a lovely way to jump in.

What advice do you have for folks interested in starting a small business? What would you tell yourself ten years ago?

Mostly I would encourage anyone interested in starting a small business to believe in their ideas and to know that meaningful success really isn't defined by profit or years in operation, but by the experiences shared and the people met along the way. That might sound quite cheesy, but both in the leanest and the most profitable years, it's been the people that have made this all a journey to cherish. On a practical note, I would suggest taking the time to really research, plan, consult, and to invest in a small business advisor or financial expert. It's a lot of up front time and cost, but may save a lot of future stress.

You often have a furry friend roaming your store. When did you start fostering pets? What has that journey been like?

I started fostering for Cat's Cradle about 6 years ago, and that's led to fostering for Anicira and the RHSPCA. It's given a sense of purpose for the spaces I'm lucky enough to work and live in -- that these places can be useful to an animal who has been born into or found themselves without a family. It also gives me so much joy to see how much our fosters give to customers. From my little customers who find so much delight to the tourists or students who get a moment of a feeling of home from holding a kitty or petting one of my own pups. And then when I'm fortunate enough to know the adopters (like Morgan + Vince!), it's such a joy to see former fosters grow and thrive with their forever families.

You're clearly very passionate about certain causes - BLM, LGBTQIA+ issues - has it ever been scary to use your voice as a small business owner? What are your thoughts around a community choosing to shop (or not shop) at a local store based on their beliefs?

The struggles faced globally during the pandemic have really intensified my conviction that it's both a privilege and a responsibility to fight for marginalized communities - those I might belong to and those I can learn so much from.

I hope that important conversations, learning, and healing can happen over these differences in beliefs - and that we aspire to see the humanity in one another no matter our own beliefs.

There are risks to being vocal, and I know that some people disagree strongly with my support of the BLM Movement or the continued fight for LGBTQIA+ rights - and that's a painful, hard thing. But we have all experienced some kind of pain and trauma in our lives, and the idea that we can work collectively to keep others from experiencing their own struggles alone, there is no other option than to try.

And finally… We all know how much you love The Great British Baking Show. Who’s your favorite baker? Favorite season? :)

I adore all of the Bakers and their kindness and warmth - but I have found myself rewatching Season 3 with John Whaite. His personal and baking journey is such a beautiful thing to watch. So excited for Season 12!

Thank you so much, Sara! Your work continues to inspire and invigorate our community. Congratulations on ten years!