The basement floor of Paddington Station was once, of all things, the town mortuary. When Pam Hammond moved here from Los Angeles in 1993, it was still being run like one.
"The store was going through a weak spot," Hammond said. "Sales were deteriorating, the stock levels were low, and the content was weak."
She and her husband, Don, bought Paddington Station that same year. They restructured the store, clearing out underselling merchandise, holding sales and putting on promotional events. Slowly but surely, they built up their inventory.
Now, more than a decade and a half later, the former morgue has never been so lively.
The Hammonds are thriving at a time when many business owners — across Ashland, the state and the rest of the country — are struggling to keep their doors open. Sales have quadrupled since they took over, which allowed them to add more employees and diversify their inventory.
Paddington Station is one of Ashland's few true emporiums, selling everything from nightwear to kitchenware, books, bath soaps and toys. As the recession cuts into customers' wallets, sales are not declining but rather shifting, and some items in the store are selling better than others. Small accessories like jewelry continue to drive profits. Though not essential items, Pam Hammond says they are doing well because they offer people "a nice pick-me-up" during hard times.
"Maybe you can't afford a whole outfit, but a new necklace or a scarf or a purse, that's a nice satisfaction and maybe what you're going to do to update your wardrobe," she said.
Kitchen appliances are selling just as well. Mrs. Hammond said that as families' budgets shrink, they are dining out less and cooking at home more, which has increased the demand for pots and pans.
While it may seem like common sense, keeping in touch with customers' needs is one of the most difficult — but important — parts of running a successful business, according to Hammond.
"It's about studying your numbers," Hammond said, "keeping good records, having a good idea of where your stock levels are in your departments and making sure you are feeding the ones that are performing better than others."
Their efficient management has allowed them to grow, and they want to take Paddington Station to the World Wide Web in the next 18 months, doing the kind of e-commerce that could take their profits to new levels.
But as long as other businesses falter, the Hammonds say they cannot take full pride in their success.
"We feel a real connection to Ashland and are invested in the community," Pam Hammond said. "It's our home, and we want it to be a vibrant community." Paddington Station continues its tradition of holding free events for the public each month. The Easter Bunny visited on April 4, and Paddington's owners hope events like these will foster a sense of community during hard times.
In the meantime, Hammond remains cautiously optimistic about the future of Paddington Station. She sees running a business during economic downturns as a challenge that everyone must overcome.
"I think with any good challenge you find ways to develop strategies to be successful," she said. For 16 years she has done just that. And she does not want to let up any time soon.