Moni’s Restoration & Design’s Moni NeSmith (left), Emma Kate’s Cottage owner Theresa Hawkins (center) and Ustabe’s Leslie Hales enjoy working together at Emma Kate’s on 5th Avenue NW in downtown Attalla.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Downtown Attalla just celebrated the expansion of one of its most beloved specialty shops. Located at 309 5th Avenue NW, Emma Kate’s Cottage welcomed a sibling store as its neighbor – Emma Kate’s Cottage Too – offering customers twice the finds, just a few steps away.
Established in 2012, Emma Kate’s Cottage sprouted from one woman’s passion – owner Theresa Hawkins. Born and raised in Etowah County, Hawkins grew up in Ivalee, where she currently resides today. She recalls a childhood rich in memories of visiting Attalla, where her father traveled to work at Nunnally’s Auto Parts. When her father returned home for lunch, Hawkins and her brother would voyage back to town with him, often enjoying film after film at the Etowah Theatre for a nickel or strolling to the drugstore for ice cream. Hawkins’ love for Attalla abounds years later, as she admires the potential for growth the city possesses.
“All of that was very important in my growing up,” said Hawkins. “[Attalla] was the town. I love being in Attalla. My sister has a shop over on 4th Street, Blossom Antiques. The city has been good to me. They’ve always helped – whatever I’ve needed they’ve done. I appreciate that, the support they’ve given.”
Hawkins began her business with a small booth in Walker Drugstore Antique Mall, where she provided customers with vintage china pieces and lovely antique dishes. As her collection increased, she discovered the need for furniture to accompany her dinnerware, yet the two styles rarely coincided to create Hawkins’ ideal aesthetic. That is, until painted furniture entered the picture.
Inspired by prominent figures like Rachel Ashwell in the interior design community, Hawkins introduced painted furniture to her booth – a trend that surpassed all expectation. Evident in its popularity, Hawkins experienced an immediate flood of success, with her booth selling painted pieces time and time again.
During this time, Hawkins watched the future home of Emma Kate’s undergo renovations from across the street. She received a call from Attalla City representative Lisa Turner, who shared with her that following a change of circumstances, the building owners were searching for inhabitants for their location. Turner gave them the names of two individuals she considered the perfect store-owners: Hawkins and her husband, Mike.
Hawkins shared that while the initial thought of running an antique shop produced uncertainty, after much thought and prayer she decided Mike’s opinion would serve as a sign. When she told Mike about Turner’s suggestion that night, Mike’s response made history. He said, “I think that’s a good idea. I think you would do really well.”
A businessman himself, Mike joined Hawkins in her new adventure, introducing her to a staple of Emma Kate’s today – Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. An innovative artist whose work spans worldwide, Oxford resident Sloan invented Chalk Paint to create a resource that produces incredible and endless decorative effects in a short amount of time. Rather than prime before painting, like Hawkins did before, Sloan’s product allowed her to apply paint to a plethora of surfaces with the knowledge that the pieces could dry and be waxed within one day.
Sloan’s paint manifests in global stockists who provide customers with the one-stop solution to all their decorative needs. While Hawkins traveled to Guntersville for a number of years to acquire her paint from a local stockist, upon the stockist’s retirement, Hawkins found herself with a newfound inheritance.
“[The stockist] knew me because I bought so much paint from her,” said Hawkins. “When she decided to get out of the business, she called me and said ‘I want you to have this, because you send me business all the time. You love the product, I want you to have it.’”
From that moment forward, Emma Kate’s became a home for Sloan’s products, which fuel treasured furniture pieces and workshops for interested painters. Sloan’s paint filters throughout the shop in a vast array of colors, appearing in cameos from booth to booth.
“I’ve never been an artsy person,” said Hawkins. “I don’t draw or color, like what you would think that somebody who paints is an artist. I’ve been given the ability to see that in other people. By doing that, I was able to bring it into my world, and use their creative talent to work for all of us. I try to see the potential in everybody, what they can do.”
An eclectic shop with 16 vendors, Emma Kate’s emerges as a home for all design preferences, providing customers with styles that range from retro to primitive to cottage and shabby chic. From ornate antiques and vintage painted furniture, to repurposed treasures, unique glassware and hidden gems that embellish homes, Emma Kate’s offers a taste of everything for every person who meanders through its stores.
Emma Kate’s caters to its customers’ creativity with a smile, Southern hospitality generating a comforting warmth for all who wander inside. The wall’s rustic wooden beams expose layers of the past, blending with modern ideas and culminating in a collection of individuals who share Hawkins’ values, including an important aspect of life upon which her business is built – family.
Named for Hawkins’ two granddaughters, Emma and Katie, Emma Kate’s is a shop rooted in family and community. Both granddaughters expressed their appreciation for the store’s namesake, with Katie operating her own booth in the store underneath The KB Collection. Emma Kate’s neighboring expansion resulted from the Hawkins’ collaborative vision, a plan she and Mike unfolded over the course of the previous year. Although Mike passed away in December of 2020, his memory remains forever alive in the business they built together, and the love that forged an everlasting foundation.
“We loved each other and we loved being together,” said Hawkins. “We were never bored of each other. We were married 27 years…we really treasured each other as our companion. I miss him so much.”
From trudging through the pouring rain in Virginia to unearth treasures from an auction, to discovering Hazel patterned dishware in an old church in Ohio, to piling their truck high just miles away in Centre like the Clampett’s, “junkin’” was a language Hawkins and Mike spoke fluently.
“I always said one of the most fun things about having a shop like this is the hunt,” said Hawkins. “You never know what you’re going to find. You’re always going to places to explore. If you find a good place, you do good picking there. There were such fun things like that [with Mike] – I loved it.”
Hawkins’ commended her vendors, who she considers family. She noted that throughout the years, the employee-employer relationship transformed into true friendships she cherishes and considers blessings. From seasoned vendor Ustabe’s Leslie Hales who has been with Hawkins since the Cottage’s inception to Moni’s Restoration & Design’s own Moni NeSmith, who Hawkins considers a kindred spirit, all vendors at Emma Kate’s represent caring and committed individuals, dedicated to one another as much as their craft.
While Hawkins kept a waiting list of potential vendors in the past, she has ceased to add more names. Rather, she listens to someone whose advice she deems paramount.
“When I know I need a vendor, I always pray about it,” said Hawkins. “God always sends me who He wants me to have. The door will open, and I’ll hear. You let the Lord lead you, and He’ll always send you who has got to be there.”
“[Our vendors] are the best in Etowah County. I appreciate them so much. They’re the best; they’re good people with good morals. I know they would do anything for me, and I would do anything for them. I’ve got some new vendors that are from Trussville, and they’re just the sweetest things. We had a meet-and-greet dinner for everybody after we opened [the second store], and it was like a big ole family getting together to eat. [One of them] had been in malls in Birmingham, and she said, ‘Y’all are just different. You’re really authentic people, and you really are as you say you are.’ They help each other. They promote each other…that’s something you don’t see a lot of. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m so thankful for them.”
From the welcoming atmosphere that radiates throughout the charming storefronts to the nostalgia that drifts in the air, Emma Kate’s Cottage merges creativity with comfort to invite customers to a place that feels like home. Through its clever and dedicated vendors who provide visitors with a limitless inventory of one-of-a-kind finds, to the loyal friendship that abounds between them, Emma Kate’s represents “a happy place,” rooted in its community, enriched with family and open for all who wish to stop by.
“It’s one of the biggest blessings in my life that I get to do this,” said Hawkins. “That I get to do what I love to do…and that’s create.”
Emma Kate’s Cottage is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a live sale every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. that features 125 items for sale in an hour. For more information about the store, visit emmakatescottage.com.