Tanya Yeo’s business runs on faith. Stairways to Heaven, a tiny shop located in St. Jacobs, features gift items for the religiously inclined. Rosaries, crucifixes and saints’ medallions are just some of the objects available there.
Yeo opened the shop in its current location last September after running it out of her home and going door to door for several months. The small business was started after Yeo lost her job when Englert’s Gift Shop – a store with similar items – closed in Waterloo. The job at Englert’s was Yeo’s first, she started working there more than 20 years ago when she was 16.
“We went to the churches and sold items that way and I had so many people asking me where they could find things,” she said. “I said to my husband, ‘I think this is what I’m supposed to do.’”
Yeo said her customers are beginning to find her in her new location and things are picking up for the shop.
“We’re a new business and it’s a bit slow, but overall I’m quite pleased.”
She chose St. Jacobs for her new location because the cozy store offered her enough space without the burden of having to fill something larger.
“Everything in Uptown Waterloo is too big, I didn’t want to get a big store that was going to look half empty,” she said. “St. Jacobs is a cute little town. It’s such a nice little area and I felt good here.”
Stairways to Heaven also carries secular anniversary items and year-round Christmas decorations in addition to baptism and confirmation gifts.
“Any of your inspirational-type items, like figurines of Jesus,” said Yeo, who acknowledges the religious items aren’t “for everyone, so we’ll be expanding as well.”
Two of her favourite statues include ones geared toward sports-minded children, called ‘Jesus is my coach.’ The statues feature the religious figure playing either baseball or hockey with children.
“It reminds them that Jesus is with them everywhere,” said Yeo. The statues rate among her most popular items. She also carries confirmation items from the popular Precious Moments series.
Known for its collectible statues of doe-eyed children, many of the Precious Moments items were discontinued last year. They are being reintroduced to Canada, but Yeo is hesitant to say whether she will carry them. It will depend on the price point of the figures, which was “quite high” when they were taken off the market.
“When Englert’s stopped carrying Precious Moments, the average was anywhere from $55-$69,” she said. “They started getting quite pricy.”
When ordering for the store, Yeo looks for items which can’t be found anywhere else.
“I go all over looking for new and different things,” she said.
Among those different items is a wooden, hand-painted collectable Fontanin nativity imported from Italy. Not just for Christmas, Yeo thinks the nativity pieces make a good wedding gift.
“The young couple they can start with the holy family and then they just add to it,” she said.
“The nativity set can cost quite a bit of money and this way they can get a piece each year.”
The traditional and intricate set features small items, like animals and the baby Jesus and large items like the foot-long manger.
In addition to the nativity, the small side room of the store features wooden Santas and a Christmas tree still decorated with glass angels.
“I’m not going to put Christmas away,” said Yeo, although she does get more items in when fall approaches, including Christmas cards in hard-to-find languages, such as Italian, Portuguese and Ukrainian.
The store is open seven days a week and currently Yeo is its only employee, save for the occasional help from her husband or mother. But she doesn’t mind the hours. “I like what I do,” she smiled.