By William C. Singleton III
The creaking wood floors and wood smell that greet you when you enter The Cook Store of Mountain Brook convey a homey, welcoming environment.
Owner Wesley Lassen credits original owner Sam Franks with the idea for the wood floors and walls. Since she took over from the previous owner, Betty Knight, 19 years ago, Lassen has installed wood cabinets, adding to the store’s warm and scented appeal, Lassen said.
What’s even more attractive – according to her customer base – is the store’s focus on functional pottery – dishware that is safe to use in microwaves, dishwashers and ovens.
“Everything we sell we want it to be very functional,” Lassen said. “We want you to be able to cook in it, clean it and do anything you want with it.”
Her store has received attention from local and state retail and business organizations. Lassen is among seven local businesses and business owners who’ve been nominated for 2018 Alabama Retailer of the Year Awards. Lassen’s nomination is in the category for stores with less than $1 million in sales.
The Alabama Retail Association, based in Montgomery, sponsors the awards program. Awards will be announced at a ceremony Oct. 16, 11:30 a.m. at Vestavia Hills Country Club. Other nominees from the Over the Mountain Area include:
• Elizabeth Adams, Ex Voto LLC, Mountain Brook
• Paige Albright, Paige Albright Orientals, Mountain Brook
• Avani Patel and Rupa Patel, Avani Rupa Fine Jewelers, Mountain Brook
• Leslie Pittman, Elle, Mountain Brook
• Julie G. Howell and Elizabeth G. Roberts, Lamb’s Ears Ltd., Mountain Brook
• Brandon Stewart, Jimmy John’s, Vestavia Hills
Nancy Dennis, spokeswoman for the Alabama Retail Association, said this year’s contest had more than 100 nominees and 54 entries that made the final cut.
Karen Odle, executive director for the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce, said her chamber doesn’t generally nominate a slew of businesses because it doesn’t want to set them up to compete against each other.
But she said the chamber picks a nominee who is not only doing well in business, but also helping the community. She noted the owner of the local Jimmy John’s sandwich restaurant as an example.
“They go above and beyond their normal work to serve the community. Any time when we have huge community events, they’ll step up and provide sandwiches and lunches for our workers,” she said. “They’ve done the same thing for the schools. They’re very community-oriented. That’s why we felt they were worth nominating.”
Molly Wallace, project manager for the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce, said the Alabama Retailer of the Year Award is prestigious for any business.
“I’ve heard it said the Alabama Retailer of the Year Awards are kind of like the Oscars for retail in Alabama,” she said. “The banquet they have in the fall is fabulous. It makes everybody feel like a million bucks. Anyone nominated and certainly any winners will get tons of PR through the process.”
Wallace said the chamber is proud of all its nominees this year.
Of the Cook Store she said, “We love the Cook Store. It’s a neat place. It makes you feel like you’re on a movie set. It’s steep(ed) in tradition. It’s so local. They have this fabulous earth-born pottery line. They love helping people in the community find gifts.”
Known for Her Pottery
Franks first started the store in 1975 as the Kitchen Shoppe. He sold it to Knight, who later sold it to Lassen. Since Lassen has taken over, she has added her own personal touches. She sells no items with electrical cords, for instance.
The store offers gadgets, bakeware, cook- ware, knives – anything for the kitchen. But the shop located at 2841 Cahaba Road is known for its pottery.
“I really started the pottery part of it,” Lassen said. “I’ve always had a love for handmade anything, cutting boards, pottery all that kind of stuff. I really added that as an element to the store, and it’s really become a big, big part of the business.”
She features the work of local pottery makers, though one has since moved to North Carolina, she said. Lassen said carrying pottery resulted in a booming bridal business for her.
“The bridal business is incredible,” she said. “We wrap and deliver locally in Mountain Brook, Homewood and Vestavia Hills. We have a bridal registry. But we try to be real easy for our customers to come in even if they’re not registered, and they want to shop with us. We try to accommodate them as best we can.”