One to Watch
Written by Matt Reihing
With a father in the Navy, Sara Christensen and her family moved around a lot when she was a kid, crisscrossing the country more than a few times. “Being uprooted gave me a deep need to find community wherever I lived,” says the now 32 year old. “Leaving so often taught me to appreciate the time that I had with people.” When she was 16, the family finally put down roots in Northern Virginia. Sara later decamped for the Central Shenandoah to attend James Madison University.
As a college freshman, Sara finally found the community she had been craving her entire life through the diverse individuals, the slower pace of life and beautiful landscapes of the Valley. “I quickly realized what a special community we have here, and how much I loved living in the Shenandoah Valley. After living most of my life on the coast, the mountains feel like home to me now.”
Being a part of the Harrisonburg community ran deeper for Sara than just living in town, though. “I already loved the people here and the city itself, so all of this inspired me to join our historic downtown community, and to be a part of that same goal.” She needed an outlet for the creative and community-focused ideas that had been percolating while working as a teacher post graduation. In the summer of 2011, Sara found that outlet by opening The Lady Jane, a home décor boutique.
Before The Lady Jane, there wasn’t a huge amount of outside interest in downtown. On walks with her dogs, she often passed dark and vacant storefronts. But buoyed by the success of a few nearby restaurants that were drawing a steady stream of customers, Sara and two other women all opened stores downtown. This first small surge of new local business was enough to attract the attention of local news media, which ran a story on the three women and their respective businesses—a validation of their vision and downtown’s potential.
Today, The Lady Jane is located in the heart of downtown, near the corner of Water and Main. Her mission is to help customers find décor they can use to tell the story of their lives. The small, immaculately decorated shop is filled floor to ceiling with unique items: handmade jewelry, air plants with macramé planters, notebooks designed by local artists and, oh yes, one of Sara’s foster cats.
Everything sold at The Lady Jane has been hand-picked by Sara based on “all that I’ve learned about my shop family.” That shop family is attracted to product from local artisans. Working so closely with local vendors has been a boon for the business. “Our customers really value knowing that their purchases support both a small business and local artisans,” she says. In 2018, she increased her store hours from five to seven days a week. The Lady Jane was voted Best Downtown Shop for the past two years by the Daily News Record.
Success hasn’t come without its share of challenges, however. When The Lady Jane first opened, the area was still recovering from a recession and Sara had to navigate leases, loans, and a lack of financial opportunities in general. This all came to a head when she moved locations from her original storefront to her current location on Main Street. She was competing with two other businesses for the lease. Ultimately, she won out not because of some sly business dealings, but through the relationship she had with her landlady and their shared vision for Harrisonburg. Her landlady simply felt like Sara and the locally focused Lady Jane were more in keeping with what she wanted from a tenant and their business.
With Sara and The Lady Jane, business is less about the money and more about giving back and investing in Harrisonburg. “I wake up every day thankful that all this time later, I get to go to my little shop and love people,” Sara says. “I can’t really separate myself from the store. The store is like an extension of myself. It’s become my dream job. It’s so good to finally have a permanent place and community to call home.” And Harrisonburg is better off for it.
117 S. Main Street
Harrisonburg, VA 22801