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Meet Karen Humphries of The Vintage Table in Natick

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Humphries.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Karen. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I graduated from college with a Business Degree and worked as a Business and IT Consultant for nearly a decade. Once we had children, we moved from Canada to Boston and I could not balance my 70 hours a week work schedule with the needs of my family. I worked as a quilt artist for a while which was fun but required a lot of time for not much profit. One day I went to the Brimfield Antique Market and my new business was born! I have always loved color and textiles and walking into a booth with hundreds of printed tablecloths was an awakening.

The early 2000s was a huge vintage revival. Printed tablecloths were in magazines and on television. Martha Stewart featured them in her shows. In addition, my store opened in the early days of internet sales so there was very little competition. The difficulty lay in finding stock. Vintage printed tablecloths were commonly used in the heartland but not in New England. Fortunately, it was the early days of eBay and tablecloths were plentiful and often pretty cheap. With my knowledge of vintage tablecloths and insistence on quality customer service my business grew. I was a founding member of the Vintage Tablecloth Lover’s Club and Vice President for a while. Vintage printed tablecloth collectors have always been a community and I made friends at the club; sharing knowledge and our lives.

Over the past 17 years, I have had customers as far away as Australia. I have been included in magazines and my tablecloths were used in the Michael Bay movie “Pain and Gain”. I love my customers and have kept in touch with many of them over the years.

In 2006 I added martial arts to my schedule. I am now a Fourth Degree Black Belt at 54! It is never too late to start. I teach children’s classes and I am the Assistant Chief Instructor at Villari’s Martial Arts of Natick. Our studio is another community that I am proud to be a part of. We teach character based martial arts and encourage our older children to give back to the community by helping in classes with younger children. Our students and families participate in our fundraisers where we work as a community to raise money for the Natick Service Council. I believe that giving back should be an important part of every successful business.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The biggest struggles I have faced are common to people my age. I lost both of my parents, one to a prolonged illness and one tragically while on vacation in Europe. I have had several surgeries for pre-cancerous conditions. As my own boss, I was able to slow my business down when I needed more personal time. Sole proprietors especially need to have plans in place for illness and tragedy.

Lately, I am finding it harder to buy inventory. Quality vintage tablecloths are now much harder to find, So I have diversified and added other business lines over the years including luxury pajamas and retro women’s dresses. I am currently working on a pop-up boutique called the Whimsical Sheep which will carry clothing and accessories for toddler girls.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go The Vintage Table story. Tell us more about the business.
Too many people who sell vintage printed tablecloths, they are inventory or something pretty. They were never that to me. Vintage tablecloths tell me a story. The vintage tablecloth era began in the 1930s and didn’t end until the 1960s and reflects many changes in the lives of women and their families.

I have late 1930s tablecloths for the American World’s Fairs, Disney’s Snow White and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Early 1940s tablecloths support Victory Gardens for the war effort and working women in pants. 1950s tablecloths are more bold and kitschy with more fun patterns appropriate for the spread of television across the country. 1960s clothes are earth-toned and rustic, a return to nature and our roots.

As a company, I am most proud of connecting women and families with their roots. I have sold many tablecloths that were very special to their new owners. They bought patterns they remembered from their Grandmother’s kitchens or their parent’s Holiday tables. I have provided tablecloths for many weddings for Brides who grew up with vintage printed tablecloths that their Mother collected.

Vintage Printed Tablecloths are about our stories as families.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
My business has been all about turning bad luck into good luck. Just after I started the website I got sick and was really unable to work outside the house. My children were in school and that gave me a lot of time to search on eBay and learn everything about printed tablecloths I could.

Some of my business lines have been unsuccessful but I used them as a diversion and always returned to the vintage tablecloths with new focus and determination.

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