20 Years in the Making – Nook in the Woods
Anniversary Feature Story by Caroline Barlott
Tall spruce trees and poplars line either side of a driveway that leads to a shop with an open sign on the door. Nook in the Woods is aptly named; it’s a gift shop located in a forest on the property of Sonia and Ernst Zellweger, a few kilometers north of Highway 28 between Redwater and Thorhild.
The emporium appears plain from the outside, reminiscent of a modest repair shop—fitting considering Ernst runs his own upholstery shop right next door—but the interior tells another story entirely. “People are always really surprised when they first come in,” says Sonia. “They are impressed by our selection.”
It’s easy to see why—Sonia has meticulously curated the 1,000 square foot space with a custom selection of products, many of which are local, artisanal and incredibly unique. As Sonia walks through the store, she points to shelves full of products ranging from jewellery to artisanal salts, and in between shelves are lined with do-it-yourself cheese kits, locally grown mushrooms, spices, and an impressive array of teas, among many other items. The more she points out, the more intriguing items stand out among the packed shelves—a small dried mandarin orange with pu’erh tea inside, gourmet hot chocolates from a local company, and brewing kits to make craft beer.
The dried foods section looks like the pantry of an astronaut or, more realistically, a camper — Sonia says she searched for a long time to find a brand with products that tasted good with few—if any, additives. Freeze dried fruits and herbs sit on one shelf while cooked beef and eggs occupy another—no refrigeration needed, and the products last between five and 25 years.
Sonia laughs as she points out some butterfly garden ornaments hanging from the ceiling. “Years ago, someone said to us, ‘Pretty soon, you’ll be hanging stuff from the ceiling.’ And that did end up happening,” she says.
Sonia is passionate about keeping up with trends while also providing time-honoured selections including the Watkins line. The other half of the front store contains a multitude of items including camping gear, gift items, puzzles, Himalayan salt lamps, and jewellery in beautiful abundance. Sonia also offers complimentary decorated gift basket arrangements for anyone purchasing items from the store. Those little touches are important to Sonia, and she’s even managed to keep her prices surprisingly low, compared to other stores. She likes to pass along the deals she gets from suppliers to her own customers.
This year marks their 20th anniversary but the business looks very different from when she first started out. Sonia initially started selling a few items out of their home on the property, and slowly the business grew until they setup the separate shop. “I can remember people coming to our dining room, and rummaging through boxes of the spices to do up gift baskets,” says Sonia.
Sonia still recalls the grand opening that involved working throughout the night to finish stocking the shelves and preparing for customers. The big day involved a snow storm, but amazingly a fair number of people still came to see the store. And since that time, Sonia has developed a loyal customer base. “I had a guest book for years, and we had people from Belgium, the United States, and many other places in Europe. They come to visit someone in the area, and they’d bring them to our shop because it’s so unique,” says Sonia.
Just a few years ago, Ernst built an addition on the back of the shop, and now Sonia also sells a large variety of clothing. This room is packed full of baby clothes and adult clothing from casual t-shirts to professional outfits. Over four hundred scarves hang from a rack in one area, while shawls in a multitude of colours are folded neatly on a shelf at the other end.
When the shop was still just an idea, Sonia and Ernst were living in Calgary. They wanted to think of a way to move out to the country and be self-sufficient, and from that idea, Nook in the Woods was born. After moving to the country, Sonia continued to work as an accountant in Edmonton, getting up before five in the morning, and driving for long stretches. She’s happy to dedicate her time now to her “Nook in the Woods”, which is her passion.