Missing Piece

Missing Piece

By Nancy Moffett

This is the story of a business and a building. Without the building, the business would never have been born. It is also a story about a woman’s dream and how timing and intuition made her dream come true.

North of Nazareth on Bushkill Center Road you’ll find Missing Piece owned by Karen Sampson. It’s a fashion accessory and home décor gift shop that carries hand-crafted furniture, jewelry, home décor, the Vera Bradley line and more. Outside hangs a banner proclaiming Missing Piece a Morning Call 2013 Readers’ Choice winner for Best Gift Shop, testament to its success. Missing Piece opened in 2006, but its’ road to success began many years before when Sampson, at the age of 12, envisioned a store where she could share her passion for beautiful things.

The Building

The two-story brick building that houses Missing Piece was built in 1934 as a home and retail space by Robert and Marguerite Beers. They lived on the second floor and ran a grocery and general store on the first floor. Inside, the wooden floors, ceiling beams and walls speak of that era, remaining just as they were 80 years ago. For more than 40 years, the store was a welcome resource for the people in surrounding Bushkill Township.

In 1976, Sally and George Paybins bought the building and changed it into a furniture store called Country Interiors. The Paybins also used the second floor as living quarters.

The Dream

Meanwhile, Sampson honed her passion for retail at Crayola where she ran the gift shop for 16 years. She was devastated in 2003 when her job was downsized, but intrigued when her fiancé Rick told her about a store he heard was for sale in the Nazareth area. “When we walked in, I felt like I had been here before,” Sampson recalls. “I had told friends that someday I would have a store with wood beam ceilings, hardwood floors and two front windows – with a candle burning, coffee for customers and a pickle barrel. Here it was!”

However, the dream didn’t materialize that day when Sally Paybins told her the store was not for sale. “I couldn’t see my shop in a strip mall,” Sampson recalls, so she dropped the idea and took a job managing gift shops for Lehigh Valley Health Network.

In 2006, she was helping decorate for a friend’s daughter’s wedding. They were looking for certain 1970s lampshades when the friend drove her to the Paybins’ store. This time when Sampson asked, Sally said they were ready to sell. The next day, Sampson and her now-husband Rick returned with a real estate investor friend who, impressed with its beautiful features, told them, “If you don’t buy this building, I will. We bought the store on a handshake and $100 down,” says Sampson.

“I named the store Missing Piece, because we’re always missing that little something,” Sampson explains, “whether it’s a piece of furniture, a baby gift, a piece of jewelry… something that makes us smile.”

The Business

As you walk up to the door of Missing Piece, you’ll notice a sign that says “Welcome. Enter as Strangers. Leave as Friends.” You’ll feel the warmth of days gone by as you enter the building. The coffee is there. There are Teddy Grahams for kids. You’ll be greeted either by Sampson or one of her 12 part-time employees. On one wall you’ll see photos, awards and thank-you letters from the many community groups supported by Missing Piece. There’s even a Presidential Award for Volunteer Service. But, most of all, you’ll find a dazzling array of merchandise covering two floors.

There are wood hutches, shelves, kitchen islands and entertainment centers… all U.S.A.-made. There are curtains, quilts, lace tablecloths, placemats and artwork… soy candles; Mark Roberts elves; Chamilia, Loribonn, Kameleon and Wind & Fire jewelry; Nora Fleming dishware; a whole Brighton shop-in-shop with handbags, wallets, shoes, jewelry and sunglasses; Archipelago hand creams and lotions; Aagaard men’s jewelry and a full line of Vera Bradley products. Everywhere you look, you’ll find treasures to suit anyone’s taste. Clearly, Sampson’s passion for fine goods has been translated into a welcoming, exciting place to shop.

“We strive to be different,” Sampson says, “so we make changes all the time.” For instance, she’ll be bringing in a line of salts and food, along with pedicure flip-flops and other items she recently found at merchandise shows. “We try to keep ahead of trends and make Missing Piece a destination gift shop.” To that end, Sampson also holds in-store personal shopping nights, both for charity and for shoppers who get store credit or money based on a percentage of the evening’s sales. Other events include Pajama Night, Crazy Hat Night and Hawaiian Night.

The business is a family affair as well, with Rick taking care of financials and Sampson’s daughter Angie and granddaughter Paige working in the store. Her son-in-law Keith also helps with in-store parties.

As for Sampson, other coincidences that ultimately connected her with the sturdy brick building have convinced her that she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be. “It’s not about the money,” Sampson says. “We love people, and we care about our customers. I am grateful and fortunate to be where I am.” To sign up for the Missing Piece mailing list, email [email protected] or visit them on Facebook.

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram